January 19, 2010 — Rachel Alexandra won the first matchup between racing’s leading ladies, beating out Zenyatta for Horse of the Year.
Maybe the next time the two superstars compete it will be on the track.
“Someday we’ll meet, and we’ll decide at that time who’s the best,” Zenyatta’s owner Jerry Moss said.
Voters chose Rachel Alexandra for the year-end honor at the Eclipse Awards on Monday night at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. The first filly to win the Preakness Stakes in 85 years received 130 votes to 99 for Zenyatta in one of the tightest, most widely debated competitions in years.
“Either filly deserved this award,” said Jess Jackson, principal owner of Rachel Alexandra. “There has never been another year like this for fillies.”
Now the question is whether Zenyatta will get to avenge the defeat.
“Zenyatta’s never lost, she’s perfect,” Moss said. “Nobody’s beaten her on the racetrack, so they beat her by proxy as far as I’m concerned.”
Moss and wife, Ann, announced Saturday the mighty mare will run as a 6-year-old, perhaps setting up that long-awaited meeting with Rachel Alexandra. The two glamour girls never raced each other despite capturing the public’s imagination with rousing victories over the boys.
As expected, Zenyatta won the Eclipse Award as the top older female for the second straight year while Rachel Alexandra was voted top 3-year-old filly. Her trainer, Steve Asmussen, took home the award for top trainer after breaking his own record for victories in a year.
Rachel Alexandra had one of the most impressive campaigns in history for a 3-year-old, beating males three times, including an historic victory at the Preakness. She also beat the boys in the Haskell Invitational and Woodward Stakes.
Her regal nature endeared her to countless fans as she traveled around the country, breaking records for largest margin of victory at the Kentucky Oaks and Mother Goose.
As the announcement was made, people began shouting the names of both superstars in a room filled with finely dressed owners, breeders, jockeys and others in the industry. When the winner’s name was read, Jackson moved forward to accept the award on behalf of Rachel Alexandra.
“Together, Rachel and Zenyatta conquered four of the best groups of males that were running last year,” he said. “We’re hoping that each horse taking its course may win their way to an ultimate match.”
“Maybe we can work toward that,” Jackson added, looking at Moss. “Jerry, I don’t know whether we can talk too quickly.”
The Eclipse Awards are voted on by members of the National Turf Writers’ Association, the Daily Racing Form and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.
Many had hoped Rachel Alexandra would meet Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but Jackson dislikes synthetic surfaces and decided not to run at Santa Anita on Nov. 7. It appeared this awards dinner would be the only time they met until it was announced that Zenyatta will run in 2010.
Jackson and Asmussen have already indicated Rachel Alexandra will race this year.
Zenyatta’s connections have not said where or when she will return to the track, although she has spent almost all of her career in Southern California. If they avoid each other until November, the Breeders’ Cup is scheduled for Churchill Downs.
Zenyatta, with her incredible size and unequivocal heart, and Rachel Alexandra, with her speed and majesty, gave thoroughbred racing some much-needed positive publicity after lagging business and the high-profile breakdowns of Barbaro and Eight Belles in recent years.
Their fame stretched beyond the racetrack, too. Zenyatta recently ran second to tennis star Serena Williams in voting for the Female Athlete of the Year by members of The Associated Press. Rachel Alexandra finished seventh.
Kenny Rice, who hosted Monday’s awards, called them the Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston of racing.
Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird, who lost to Rachel Alexandra in the Haskell and Zenyatta in the Classic, was top 3-year-old colt.
Julien Leparoux, who rode three winners at the Breeders’ Cup, was the year’s best jockey.
Leparoux’s Breeders’ Cup winners included Informed Decision, who won an Eclipse Award as top female sprinter, and She Be Wild, who took top 2-year-old filly honors.
Baffert’s Lookin at Lucky, whose only loss of the year was a close second at the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, was voted top 2-year-old male. Gio Ponti was top older male, Kodiak Kowboy won for male sprinter, and Goldikova was top female turf horse.
Godolphin Racing was honored as the best owner and Juddmonte Farms won top breeder.
The ritzy affair, where horsemen ditch their boots and baseball caps for tuxedos, was held one night after and just a few blocks away from Hollywood’s Golden Globe Awards. Both red carpets were soaked by an unusually fierce Southern California storm.
This year’s ceremony was dedicated to Bobby Frankel, who died of cancer Nov. 16. Winners throughout the night paid tribute to the Hall-of-Fame trainer, who won Eclipse Awards as top trainer five times, including four straight from 2000-2003.