This past weekend, the two finalists for 2009 Horse of the Year, the two great females of the sport, the two stars of the game ran. Both won in their own signature way. Both delivered just want their fans wanted: a victory.
Rachel won with a sterling effort, sitting just outside the leader and spurting home with ease to win by ten & a half lengths under wraps at the end.
The next day, "the mare, the myth, the legend" Zenyatta continued her marvelous streak of perfection alive for another day, as she put in her typical devastating late kick to just get up over St. Trinians in the Vanity Handicap.
But this post is not to celebrate their respective victories. This post is a call to action to the fans of both sides. I do not know whether i should be the one to say this, as who am I but a simple fan. But i feel that is necessary for someone to speak up before it is too late to change the situation. Before, between and after the victories, there was a multitude of back-and-forth between the fans of the two horses. But it was not your typical tit-for-tat like you would see between fans at a bar debating who was better. This was a bare-knuckle brawl. Teeth were shown, attacks thrown, and all left with their thirst for blood unquenched.
But why? Why do the fans from each side feel the urge to attack the other horse? Why do they resort to nonsensical arguments? Why is it that one side cannot say that they believe their horse is better without the other saying that is nothing but "crap", then launching into a vicious attack about the other one's credentials. I have witnessed both sides do this time and time again. Is this the example you wish to show new fans? Is that the goal, to proselytize the new fans in this way, converting them into bitter, sniping fanboys unwilling to give any respect to a horse who is a serious threat to their favorite? What happens after their horse retires? Will they care about the sport to stay with it, or will they just move on? Will the actions of more than a few fans turn off those who might care about the game?
One of the main reasons I point out these questions is that it is not just the average fan who is doing the bashing. People who have a voice in the industry, people whose views are respected by others are doing it as well. People who should know that their voice carries weight and that they should be careful what they say. There have been numerous instances where people in the media have openly bashed one horse or the other. Whether on air, in print or across social media, these attacks are damaging to the sport. They may personally feel that Horse "A" is better than Horse "B", but to state it by negatively speaking about the other horse with such vile can do nothing but harm. By "negatively promoting" the horse, they are hurting the very game the care about.
What it worse is that the negative aspect of this rivalry between these horses is so vicious not because of the horses themselves, but more from outside factors. The horses have never faced each other, and likely will only face each other once, if ever. So the fans are left to find other ways to compare the two. This is where the "outside" hatred seeps in. It is not primarily where they reside, as many of the rivalries of this type in the past were, but what surface they run on. Rachel Alexandra resides east of the Rockies, where the surface is of the main tracks is (predominately) dirt. Zenyatta resides in southern California, where the surface of the main track is synthetic. This is a major problem, because most people are "for" or "against" synthetics. This is true no matter where the person resides.
The people who dislike synthetics need someone, something, some horse, to project their anger towards. Zenyatta, with her undefeated streak and flashy deep-closing style, proves to be the perfect target. She became the manifestation of every that was wrong with the synthetics. So all of the bad-talking about synthetics became bad-talking about Zenyatta. This further fanned the flames of hatred since the owner of Rachel Alexandra is a known opponent of synthetics. People used his stance as a reason to hate on Zenyatta. People who are a proponent of synthetics have taken up for Zenyatta, regardless of whether they truly believe the statements they are saying about the horse or not.
Both sides have their most vocal of fans dominating the conversation, making it more and more partisan with each day. This is preventing people who like both equally from even commenting on one side or the other, for fear of reprisal. Both horses have fans who take wild swings against the other, just to start the flame wars anew. "Team Rachel" is not afraid to snipe at any moment, and neither is "Team Zenyatta". Each side has gotten so touchy that even a factual statement, that is not meant as an insult in any way, has caused a fight to break out. I have witnessed forums go nuts with hatred over someone making a comment like "Rachel was the first 3 year-old filly to win the Woodward ever" or "Zenyatta did not break the North America consecutive win record", both of which are factual statements. Both sides will massively overreact to anyone questioning anything about their horse, whether the statement is truth or pure hyperbole, such as "Rachel ran the best three year-old season ever" or "Zenyatta has run the best overall campaign ever", both of which are subjective statements at best.
I admit that i am guilty of devaluing one horse over another, and even starting a flame war or two. But i do not play favorites. I may love both of these horses, but i have no problem pointing out the deficiencies in each side's resume. (The lack of travel, the quality of their competition, the avoidance of certain races) But I don't do it at the expense of the other, and i hope that other side of the conversation can admit that their horse has similar flaws. Honest discussions rarely lead to permanent hard feelings.
What i am trying to get across to everyone, and what i hope you take away from this, is that we all love horses. We all love the game. But sometimes we let our emotions get the best of us and ruin what a great time we live in, in which we have two wonderful, once in a decade - maybe once in a lifetime - horses running at the same time. There is no need to bash one to praise the other. Just cheer for both, respect both and take pride that you witnessed both of them run.