The Kentucky Derby is only four weeks from now; a sure sign that spring is underway. Horse racing is becoming very exciting as the first Saturday in May approaches. The results of the Wood Memorial, Bluegrass Stakes and Arkansas Derby will begin to solidify the list of 20 three year-olds who will run for the roses on May 3rd.
I have conflicting opinions about horse racing. They fluctuate between a deep respect for equine athletes bred to run, and great concern for the general well being of young horses pushed beyond their physical limitations. A more vital concern to me however, is the large number of ex-race horses who can't find employment after their average 3 year racing career has ended. At this point they still have the potential to live 30 more years; a lifespan that is near impossible to match with human commitment. Homes for dogs and cats are scarce enough. Even fewer possibilities to re-home Thoroughbreds exist. Unless the adopter is an experienced horseman with training abilities, the horse is at great risk for neglect or abuse.
Once in awhile exceptional examples of success in racing arise that grab hold of our emotions. While basking in their greatness we are able to witness how well cared for and loved they are by the public as well as their "connections."
Mares, Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra are two of racing's Goddesses. Legions of fans, who never forgot the boost they gave to Thoroughbred racing in the last decade, continue to follow their lives. Both of these great horses are retired from the race track and are living well on Kentucky bluegrass.
Zenyatta's third foal is expected any day now. Fans are holding a vigil by checking her status on Facebook and her website. We are not surprised that she is a wonderful mother, relaxed and attentive as her feisty colts zoom around the field attempting to break their mother's incredible record. Her owners and caregivers have generously shared the great mare's births with us by making pictures and updates easily accessible.
Rachel Alexandra has not had good luck as a broodmare. Although her 2 foals have thrived, in February, 2013 she suffered complications related to the birthing process. It almost ended her life. For weeks fans held their breath after Rachel's surgery to correct a torn rectum. Her large filly was grafted to and reared by a nurse mare so that Rachel could fully recover. Updates on the mare were released often so that her adoring fans could follow the slow but encouraging progress. By April she was enjoying brief periods of turnout back at the farm.
In 2009 when both mares were making history on opposite coasts, there was chatter about a match race. Rachel, at age three, won the Preakness. Jockey Calvin Borel had chosen to ride her instead of his Derby winning mount, Mine that Bird. Although he respected the big 50/1 winning colt, he felt the mare was even better. He was right. Rachel cruised over the finish line in front of the pack; the first mare to do so in 85 years.
Meanwhile, Zenyatta, a late bloomer, didn't begin attracting attention until later that same year. Attention was drawn to the California girl's undefeated record with every win she secured. By the end of 2009, the 5 year old mare's credentials had surged to 14 wins out of 14 starts.
Rachel's 2009 Horse of the Year honor was well deserved. Zenyatta earned the same prestigious title in 2010. The world was captivated by the two Queens in the Sport of Kings.
Personally, I am thankful that the two mares never raced against each other. Is it necessary to know which one is "greater"? Does one race declare such a proclamation. Isn't there room for two to share the throne? After all civilization has survived decades without declaring whether Secretariat was greater than Man O'War. Opinions are expressed, discussions ensue, and speculations abound. However, one truth remains secure. Both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta captured our imagination and continue to capture our hearts.
|Zenyatta with her first foal in 2012.|
|Rachel Alexandra and her 2012 foal.|