The conversation continues…

On the Belmont backstretch on Monday morning, a blissful unawareness of the calendar might have led one to think that it was spring.

Trainers, exercise riders, spectators—all gradually shed layers as the sun rose higher. “It’s HOT!” was overheard more than once. A lone horse trained on the turf course.

But instead of the blue sky setting off fledgling green leaves, the colors of the trees along the backstretch were burnished. And instead of backside conversation dwelling on the Kentucky Derby, all the talk was of the Fall Classic. And I’m not talking about the Yankees.

In the barns as in the blogosphere, Zenyatta vs. Rachel reigned. Encountered on the way to the track, Allen Jerkens asked, “So what did you think of her?” Unprompted, he called out, “They should both get Horse of the Year.” He recalled 1957, when, he says, both he and Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons were honored as top trainers by the New York Turf Writers Association. Hmm…which is Zenyatta, and which is Rachel?

Another trainer, on his pony near the rail of the training track, said unequivocally, “Give it to both of them!”

Casual conversations spurred amicable arguments. “She never left California!” “She won the Classic!” “Who’d she beat in the Woodward?” “She beat colts three times!”

Trainers freshly returned from California updated reporters about their horses, about next races, about next year. One raved about the quality of the event at Santa Anita, how well everyone was treated, the beauty of the surroundings. Another bemoaned the suggestion, raised by Joe Drape in yesterday’s New York Times, that Santa Anita become the permanent home of the Breeders’ Cup. The work of the assistant starter who held on to Quality Road earned lavish praise.

Florida travel plans were discussed; Payson Park or Palm Meadows? When are you leaving? On a gloriously warm autumn morning, cold and dark New York racing seemed an impossibility. Who needs Florida?

But the calendar, if not the weather, tells us that it’s autumn, not spring or summer. If it were, we might still dream that they’d meet on the track, that we’d see Rachel go west or Zenyatta come east, or maybe they’d meet somewhere in the middle.

Training hours are over; the stable area is quiet. But still, in smaller pockets of conversation, still… “Who’dya think they’ll give it to?” “She was terrific, wasn’t she?”

Yes, she was. Both of them.

13 thoughts on “The conversation continues…

  1. Another great post. And yes, they were both spectacular this year, each in their own unique way. We're privileged to have witnessed true feminine greatness on the east and west coast.

  2. Trying to box a winner? The feeling is (pari)mutuel.I am biased towards RA having seen her in person.Could be the first time in sporting history people are cheering for a tie. Weird.

  3. The filly exacta! What a pleasure it has been to watch the girls this year.Good post, good writing. Thank you for sharing the NY mornings. Here in Florida we sit and think about being in NY (at least on my farm.)

  4. I'm not rooting for a tie. Why reward a horse that was campaigned in the manner that Zenyatta was and encourage more people to do that in the future?It's Horse of the YEAR…not horse of the DAY.By the time Zenyatta made her 2009 debut, Rachel Alexandra had won five races, including the KY Oaks and Preakness. By the time Zenyatta's connections deigned to take on males, Rachel Alexandra had already defeated them three times, all in major Grade 1 races.Anybody suggesting Zenyatta is Horse of the Year ( whether in a tie or alone ) has either a very short memory or is biased….or both.

  5. Joe Drape must have been caught up in the quality of the press buffet line to suggest BC make Santa Anita, or any other track, the permanent location for Breeders Cup. I think it is great the way they travel around the country, returning to the legendary tracks such as BEL, CD,and yes, Santa Anita, as well as some jewels like Monmouth and Arlington for a change of pace. I get the opinion that Mr Moss is not going to bring Zenyatta back next year, but should be reconsider, I nominate the historic FG in New Orleans as the site for a neutral track venue. They so happen to have a Stakes race for 4YO+ fillies and mares at 1 1/16th miles carded for 3/13. Right now it's $200k, and the race remains unnamed, but I'm sure CDI would come up with some real money if they could get these 2 ladies on the Gentilly oval.

  6. Thanks, Linda, and I couldn't agree more. No kissin' your sister here, Keith! I saw Rachel too, but I think that I am biased towards Zenyatta. Thank you, Union Square–and up here, we sit and think about when we can head south. Anon: Of course you're right. As are all who argue that Zenyatta deserves it, too. ;)BSaint: Now, you just have to write to Mr. Moss and Mr. Jackson and see if they'll go for it. What a terrific idea–

  7. Chris Lally sez:As a parent, I will avoid having to pick between my children…is there an apparatus to avoid picking between RA and ZEN?

  8. Hail to the Chief and co-HOY! Allen is probably one of the best racing historians we have and while he can be sentimental he is not given to touchy-feely decision making, if he sees fit to giving the award to both girls then it is justified.

  9. Has the HOTY vote ever before had females 1-2?I saw both races in person and both were wonderful. I can't imagine RA holding off Zenyatta at SA. Similarly though, try to imagine a race at a track fair to speed like Sar or Mth, where RA were allowed a first quarter and half mile like Regal Ransom ran – 24 flat and 47.8. Zenyatta would never catch her.Both horses were brilliant but Rachel did more over the course of the year OP, FG, OP, CD, Pim, Bel, Mth, and Sar. Dan Illman has the PPs for both on his blog at DRF.

  10. I'm completely amazed at how passionate people's opinions have been regarding HOY. Thank you, Teresa, for writing a "relaxing" post about the subject.RA and Zenyatta are two remarkable and stunning fillies, and they're everything I love about horse racing. It's probably a good thing I don't have a vote for HOY …

  11. I'm sorry that I haven't responded sooner to your comments–end of quarter grades/comments got to me!Jean–I tend to agree. Both accomplished things that had never been accomplished before, and both deserve recognition. Anon: I don't believe that there have been co-champions under the current voting system, but my research was cursory. Before the consolidation in the current system, there were certainly co-champions. LJK: Not to my knowledge.Sue: There's too much to celebrate here to get acrimonious. Even if you have an opinion, you can't begrudge the award to the other. Glad you liked it. =)

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