So, the Horse of the Year debate is over and done (thank the good Lord). 2009 was blessed with two of the greatest fillies of all time, and unfortunately only one could be named Horse of the Year. Rachel Alexandra was deserving of the honor, and if Zenyatta is more worthy this year she will have ample opportunity to prove it. Now we get to move forward, put any ill feelings aside, and eagerly await in thanks and amazement what we are about to experience in 2010. Such stars as those we witnessed in 2009 and will continue to see this year make us forget, if ever so briefly, the nearly empty stands on an average race day, the near-complete lack of national television coverage, and all racing’s other countless woes and threats. Rachel, Zenyatta, Gio Ponti, Summer Bird, Informed Decision, Life is Sweet, Quality Road, Presious Passion—they have all been screaming from the rafters that American racing is not dead yet. (And those are just the horses not on this year’s Triple Crown trail!) And, if they have anything to say about it, the sport will not continue to deteriorate, but is experiencing a rebirth.
The announcement that undefeated Zenyatta will now race this year
put the exclamation point on the anticipation for 2010. AP Photo/
Jae C. Hong, File
Of course, superstar horses alone cannot heal the wounds (largely inflicted upon itself) racing has suffered over the last few decades. It has serious problems and will likely never again enjoy its former status as one of America’s most popular sports. But at the same time, nothing can reinvigorate racing like an equine idol, let alone two or three in the same year. As many great human interest stories as there may be in every Kentucky Derby or Breeders’ Cup, in the end it is the Thoroughbred itself that carries the sport. (Of course, any horseman, fan, or writer will tell you that.) So, in those rare times such last year and this when our cup runs over with stars, we need to enjoy every moment of our abundance. I can’t remember a year in at least the last couple of decades that has brought so much excitement and hope in terms of the competitors on the track. I’m sure the economy has a lot to do with the return of some of these fantastic horses—at least some good things come out of a crisis, this being the biggest for racing.
Defending Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra should
finally meet the great Zenyatta in 2010. AP Photo/Mike
I still find it dumbfounding that we entered a state of such passionate debate over which of two fillies, each happening to be an all-time great, should be Horse of the Year. Never in my life would I have dreamed of such a scenario. For my part, I wasn’t even sure I’d ever see another horse, period, that I could truly consider among the greats. Most that show that potential these days either don’t pan out, suffer injuries that result in their retirement, or leave the track at the end of a good season for stud duty, without ever having the chance to prove what they’re really made of.
So, I cannot thank enough the connections of Zenyatta and Rachel, and for that matter the well-proven French mare Goldikova, for allowing us fans to have already learned what their great mares are capable of, and even more for blessing us with their continued presence on the tracks that call their names. Actually, I’m nearly as excited about the other horses I listed, too. For, though the three mares can probably accomplish even greater feats than we’ve seen from them (it boggles the mind), these other horses can likely do even bigger and better things this year as well. Life is Sweet should continue to step out of her stablemate Zenyatta’s shadow and win several major races. Gio Ponti could take down the Dubai World Cup to add to his sparkling turf resume. Summer Bird and Quality Road could become bona fide handicap stars (not just the best of what’s out there, like in many years). Informed Decision will likely add exciting new credentials to her lofty sprinting achievements. And who knows what new stunning feats the impossible Presious Passion has up his sleeve this year on the turf? Not to mention the Triple Crown contenders and other budding stars, such as four-year-old Blame, who are just beginning to show off their talents. Yes, if everyone stays safe and healthy, 2010 has the potential to be one of the most thrilling and just plain fun years in recent memory.
Of course, realistically, the year may not pan out as magically as promised. It seems unlikely that all the aforementioned stars will remain healthy through the Breeders’ Cup—it’s possible, but even a minor injury could derail any of these horses’ seasons. The beloved old warrior Einstein, a graded stakes winner on three surfaces and scheduled to race on this year, has been the first casualty among the star Thoroughbreds this season. A recent soft tissue injury resulted in his retirement to Kentucky. Einstein’s versatility and grit will very much be missed, but hopefully the other top horses from last year will remain sound and healthy all season.
As long as horses and riders stay safe to the fullest extent possible the year, we’re in for a ride even more wild and exhilarating than 2009. Amid all of racing’s problems, that’s definitely something to celebrate. And, with sale numbers looking up, Hollywood Park staying open another year, handle figures being up here and there, and many other small victories, the horses on the track are not the only reason to believe we’ll have more cause for applause in 2010. Here’s hoping for the best year of horse racing in memory!