Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Why none of us deserve to be fans of Rachel Alexandra or Zenyatta

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.


  1. To decry the value of one horse at the expense of another, when they are completely different horses, with different styles and preferences, is completely absurd. Agreed.

    Zenyatta is a closer who wants distance.

    Rachel Alexandra is a speedball who excels at nine furlongs.

    One is an older mare; one is just four.

    What are we arguing about, again? They're both GIRLS? There can only be one good GIRL? Wait just a moment...

    Is this truly a synthetic/dirt argument that two excellent racehorses got caught in the middle of?

  2. Julie J. StewartJune 18, 2010 at 9:39 PM

    Very well written Christopher - I found myself in the middle of a knife fight simply for asking for a Zenyatta poster on a major horse racing forum. It was brutal and left a very bitter taste in my mouth to the point where I rarely if ever participate in that forum anymore. I have traveled to watch both horses race and have rejoiced at their winnings. The posts that I have seen lately (Claire Novak had one on her NTRA blog that suggested someone drown themselves in the Mississippi) was incredible. I visited her blog and was stunned by the viciousness of the postings. It makes me so very sad to see such a chasm in the sport when we need unity in the worst way.
    This is good - very very good. Thanks - jj

  3. who wrote this? Christopher? Great write---First RA & Z--article I didn't close out with ll the white noise---Thanks

  4. Awesome post and well worth the wait! Now we can get back to talking about this year's Classic winner - Blame!

  5. It's simply a transference of the political atmosphere to race horses. It's what we've learned from cable news. Sad, indeed!

  6. Thank you! This was a well written post and echoes many of my own sentiments. Until and unless Rachel and Zenyatta face each other in a race, why pick sides?!? They are both wonderful mares who have deserved all of their fame and popularity. They have the potential to be good for the sport, so long as we fans show some maturity and stop acting like kids at a high school football game.

  7. BRAVO! I NEVER read the comments on the internet any longer. I just can't stand it. As you said it so eloquently above "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". These two ladies have resurrected the Sport of Kings. Why can't we love them both?? I know I surely do.

  8. I also love both horses and think it's so idiotic and absurd that fans on both sides take it to the caustic, sniping, illogical level they do. If you are a fan of HORSE RACING you should be thrilled that there are two amazing, beautiful, talented racehorses running in our lifetimes that we all have the supreme privilege to be witness to.

  9. Thank you!! Very well said indeed and I couldn't agree with you more. When the comments on blogs turn into the ridiculous quarrels, I quit reading.

  10. There is a big difference between Rachel Alexander and Zenyatta. Zenyatta's connections only enter her when she is ready to run and where they think she will win. Even if they receive tremendous criticism for doing so. Rachel Alexander is the poster girl for what is wrong with horse racing today she is owned and trained by myopic egomaniacs. They run her where they think there is easy money to be had and when they know she isn't at the top of her game. Running a filly like RA when she hasn't been properly conditioned is a catastrophic injury waiting to happen. Personally I think these two fillies provide a valuable lesson for the new horse player. The sooner they are made aware of who places their horses in races to win and who runs horses just so they can sit in the owners box the better off they are.


  11. "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, "

    if you do any of that, you certainly ARE doing it at the "it at the expense of the other, "

    the fact you you use the word "deficiencies" lets the cat out of the bag here.

  12. First, thank all of you for your comments. :-)


    The point you bring up is valid, but linking it to such a quote as:

    "The sooner they are made aware of who places their horses in races to win and who runs horses just so they can sit in the owners box the better off they are."

    is questionable. There are much more egregious examples of this happening across the country than in this instance, and the point would probably be better served by using better examples. (Also, how is a 5 horse, ungraded stakes race not a good starting point for the year, if it just the first race of a season long campaign? Are you also speaking of the race on Oaks day as well?)


    When someone starts talking about the historical context of one of them (or both), i do mention the deficiencies compared to the horses of yore.
    But when it comes to debating one against the other, i do not mention one's weaknesses without mentioning the other one's weaknesses as well. I am even-handed, pointing out BOTH of their weaknesses (& strengths) when making a point about BOTH of them. If someone is just trying to prove that one is better than the other, i point out the facts and then just walk away WITHOUT saying whom, because they are just looking for someone to argue with and not actually wanting my opinion.

  13. 10 cent,

    Great read...and you called out the rather caustic principles without even naming them.

    We all need to remember that this is a game of opinions and those polarized to one side or the other are voicing their opinions out loud or in print because neither side can really bet on their heroes in a legitimate race against each other.

    Oh wait, that'll probably create more arguments ;-)!!!

  14. It's easy to see why people continue the debate.

    tencentcielo - you wrote wonderful adjectives to describe Zenyatta, but where are Rachel's adjectives? She is after all, the reigning HOY.

    anonymous says Rachel is the poster child for everything wrong with racing but lightly picks on the Zenyatta camp.

    Natalie hints at Rachel's distance limitations.

    All of the above are reasons to start a debate that can turn to hurling insults. I'd like to think all of the posters here enjoy both horses, but it's clear that veil is thin based on the comments. It's also very clear who each and every poster if for (Z or RA) based on the comments. If you're truly for both horses then give both females equal praise without slipping in between-the-lines insults that help to fuel the online war between these two horses.

  15. There is one good thing about all the vitrol, it finally made horseplayers a bit more interested in the sport, the great ladies we have the privlege of seeing before our own eyes and not just the payoffs! Horse bettors are usually just interested in making money. But this is a rivalry. This is Sunday Silence fans against Easy Goer fans, this is the Yankees vs the Dodgers. This is East versus West. Let's make it fun and let's hope Zen or Rachel wins the BC Classic, and to those supporting the horse who didn't win, be gracious and congratulate the winner. And to those who support the winner, be gracious and have kind words for the one who didn't win. I just hope it isn't a DEAD HEAT, we'll never hear the end of it.