Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Rachel Alexandra: The Best Ever

Saturday confirmed what many thought going in, Rachel Alexandra is the greatest filly to ever step on a racetrack. The race drew unusually deep (In a relative sense, considering the handicap division) and I couldn’t help but think the trainers had decided to take a stand against the talented filly.

She certainly was not done any favors during the running. Da’Tara and Past The Point pressured the filly on both sides into extremely fast fractions of 22.85 and 46.4. For a comparison, she was forced to go as fast early as the G1 Forego sprint just an hour or so earlier. To underline the nature of how the race was run, look at how the field finished. The 4 horses closest to Rachel at the half-mile pole, were in the final four spots at the wire.

That was a brutal pace and the fact that a 3yo filly could withstand that and still out finish the field is nothing short of amazing.

There can be no doubt that she is the greatest filly ever. None whatsoever.

Now, I hate to give up space here to address internet message board talking points, but I feel compelled to touch on some of the things that have made the rounds on internet forums by the small minority of lunatics that are either anti-Jess Jackson, anti-Asmussen, pro-Zenyatta or pro-Ruffian or all of the above. Remarkably some Internet loons don’t understand that you can be a fan multiple horses and that fandom in horseracing is not an exclusive venture.

1. Zenyatta has had the softest of schedules in 2009. She has not been routinely challenged at any point in her career to the extent Rachel has.

2. Speculating that Zenyatta could defeat Rachel Alexandra at 10-furlongs is just that, pure speculation. Of course under Saturday’s conditions you wouldn’t have liked Rachel’s chances, but each race dictates different tactics. Rachel had to be gunned to the lead from that post-position otherwise she would have been boxed and battered the entire race. Rachel had no problems going 9.5 furlongs in the Preakness under a brutal pace and there is no doubt that she would have beaten that field at 10-furlongs. To assume Rachel, who has shown the complete ability to rate, could not be effective at 10-furlongs is a baseless opinion. Her ability to set the pace or stalk gives her the advantage over Zenyatta in any hypothetical match up. (Beyond the fact that Rachel has routinely beaten stiffer opposition anyways)

3. Ruffian never left the confines of the northeast and as a 3yo never left New York. She didn’t run in the Kentucky Oaks and never competed in a Triple Crown event. Rachel has won over 8 different tracks to Ruffian's 4. Rachel has won over a variety of different off tracks, whereas Ruffian only ran over fast tracks. Rachel won the premier event for 3yo fillies Kentucky Oaks, Ruffian didn't make the gate. Rachel won a Triple Crown race, Ruffian never entered one. Rachel beat 3yo males twice, Ruffian never beat a male racehorse. Rachel defeated older males, Ruffian never raced against one. Additionally Rachel ran more often than Ruffian, even if you omitted Rachel’s last two races, which would have occurred after Ruffian’s breakdown in their respective seasons.

Now Ruffian backers can point to two things. Ruffian won a race at a mile and a half and she set 5 stakes records and equaled 2 track records.

First, outside of her one start at 12 furlongs, Ruffian never ran past 9 furlongs. In fact Ruffian only had 2 races beyond a mile. To act as if she was some great stamina horse is purely revisionist history. Of her 10 wins, 7 were 7-furlongs or under. Also, she was loose on the lead under modest fractions in her 12-furlong win, where speed is even more dangerous against horses that have stamina but no tactical speed.

As far as her records, it’s certainly much easier to break stakes records the earlier you ran in the time line. A stakes record in 1975 is easier to break than a stakes record in 2009. Each year, as thousands more horses have a chance to whittle down the times, they in turn become more difficult to break. Also consider, three of Rachel’s races have been against males, which will have records infinitely more difficult to break than age and gender restricted races that Ruffian ran in.

I say all of this not as a means to degrade the greatness of Ruffian. She was unquestionably a brilliant racehorse and one of the finest runners the sport has ever produced. Ruffian was light years better than Rachel as a 2yo and I would without question pick Ruffian over Rachel under a mile. With that said, Rachel is the vastly more tested and proven entity. She has routinely faced and beaten the best the sport has to offer, not just the best of her sex. Rachel is the better horse because she has thrived in races most fillies, even great ones like Ruffian, dont even bother to load in the gate for.

1 comment:

The_Knight_Sky said...

I've never understood the internet fascination of trying to split hairs between Ruffian and Rachel Alexandra.

They both had their moments in the sun. Nothing can take that away now.

I think Rachel has run her last career race. Expect a "retirement announcement" weeks into 2010 after the HOY is handed over to Mr. Jackson.

I would have like to see more from Rachel like beating an Einstein or Rail Trip or go against a Gio Ponti on the turf. I know, I know. I'm dreaming but to be considered "the greatest filly of all time", she should have been given that chance.

Right now Rachel is awesome,
but I really do not know who was truly best when one compares equines of different eras. And I really don't stay awake at night trying to make sense of it all. No one should. Peace.