How did Eli Manning not go down on that play? How did David Tyree make that catch, and why didn’t New England’s Rodney Harrison whack the ball off Tyree’s helmet?! Perhaps he was as shocked as anybody that: 1.) Eli Manning, who I have grown to like, but revered him as a puppy that season, somehow avoided a sack and 2.) What the %*#$!
I say all this and bring this up because it is my feeling that after 6 P.M. today we may be looking at the most disappointing 19-1 horse racing career the sport has ever seen. It pains me to say it and boy, oh, boy, do I hope I’m wrong, but I think Zenyatta loses today. It’s not a dirt thing. It’s not an East Coast thing. It’s a numbers thing. The horses she’s running against are true dirt horses and a lot of them are very, VERY good. Namely, Quality Road.
Now, for the two followers I have, you may remember that a couple of weeks ago I wrote that I called Quality Road Scott Norwood and called him choke job. After looking at the sheets he is several lengths better than every horse in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Earlier in the year he ran the lowest number that Thoro-Graphs Jerry Brown et al have ever issued in a negative 7. Never been done. Not only that, but it didn’t take that much out of him. He was freshened up and ran a negative 5 in the Met Mile. Freshened up for a few more weeks? He runs a negative 3. Four weeks, his shortest rest of the year, he still runs a negative 2.
That does look like downward form but with the bullets he’s been breezing (4f in 48.60 at Churchill Dows on Halloween and a 5f 1:01.42 move at Belmont) and having not run since the Woodward over two months ago, he promises to match that negative 2 if not surge past it to a 3 or 4. He gets the 1-hole which could be trouble, but with the turf horse Paddy O’Prado and Haynesfield to his left, jockey John Velazquez should be able to get off the fence and into the clear and not get bottled in. I don’t think Quality Road will get hung up in a speed duel with those two horses and First Dude (who will run huge, just watch, think Hard Spun in 2007, our last dirt cup).
Where that negative 2 may not seem monstrous, it’s is the best by many lengths over any of the horse below him, namely Zenyatta. She’s never run faster than a negative 1 and she did that at Hollywood earlier this year. She followed that with a positive 1 and a negative 1/4 . She is wildly consistent but usually follows a “negative” effort with a slightly “positive” effort ... and in the land of Thoro-Graphs, that’s bad.
These figures do account for ground loss and we all know that she suffers from ground loss.
So who figures to be the Eli Manning of this Classic? The Tyree? The Plaxico Burress? The Manning will undoubtedly be First Dude, eluding the pressure but setting the pace, the tone. Tryee will be Haynesfield, a front-runner who will, no doubt, assist Quality Road by being sent close to the front thereby allowing Burress — Quality Road — to catch the game-winning touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone.
The Patriots threw bomb after bomb in their last attempt at trying to score in the Super Bowl. It was certainly questionable strategy but it was symbolic: this is a prayer. Four downs, four Hail Marys.
Coming down the lane Zenyatta will have four downs to score and she can’t settle for a field goal.
And if Zenyatta loses she will fall short of the grand comparison with the greatest mares of all time. I’m sure folks will chime in about her California insulation, that her wins — albeit in spectacular fashion — weren’t against the type of competition that will rank her in that tier revered for the Hall of Fame of Hall of Famers. If she wins, well, this 20th race will, no doubt, be her greatest triumph. But I see too much 2007 New England and not enough 2007 New York.
My fear is that her run in the Classic and her run at an undefeated career will come up short and she’ll be remembered more for failing in the big game — despite the courageous efforts of jockey Mike Smith, trainer John Shirreffs, and owners Jerry and Ann Moss — than by being the greatest mare of all time.
Like I said, I hope I’m wrong.