The following is the first part in a series of short excerpts of Six Weeks in Saratoga: How Three-Year-Old Filly Rachel Alexandra Beat the Boys and Became Horse of the Year.

Prologue
The Answer

The Answer waited.

It waited in the dimness of the Four Seasons Beverly
Wilshire in Beverly Hills, California. Horse people in their best evening attire
plucked hors d’oeuvres off of trays, trays that floated around the room. Their
voices hummed. There was talk of the Answer: Who would win the 2009
Horse of the Year? Soon they found their seats and tuned their frequency to
the stage for the start of the 39th Annual Eclipse Awards.
Zenyatta turned what was once unanimous into a debate. The 2009 Horse
of the Year award had already been won—it was already Rachel Alexandra’s
award. Why did Zenyatta have to go and win the 2009 renewal of the Breeders’
Cup Classic against male horses and look positively fantastic while in motion?
She let the boys from America and Europe hold the door open long enough
and unleashed her fury. Zenyatta, for those who don’t know, was the unbeaten
five-year-old mare who ran like a bulldozer on nitro down the middle of
Santa Anita’s synthetic surface to win the Classic. Perhaps race caller Trevor
Denman said it best when Zenyatta struck the front in the Classic when he
yelled, “This. Is. Un. Be. Lievable!”

It was supposed to be concrete.

Rachel Alexandra, the freakishly gifted three-year-old filly, had staved
off older horses in the Woodward Stakes on closing weekend at Saratoga Race
Course. She capped 2009 with her eighth consecutive victory—three against
males, the latest against the older, more accomplished brand. Horse of the
Year was hers. All she had to do was bask and smile for the camera. Then
Zenyatta came running late.

The debating was virulent, the words venomous. Just read some of the
forty-seven comments from Horse Race Insider editor and columnist John
Pricci’s Morning Line column, dated January 13, 2010, about the Rachel
versus Zenyatta thread. Pricci wrote that it was best for Zenyatta fans if she
lost the Horse of the Year vote, reasoning that Zenyatta would come back
with her only loss to date being one handed out on paper, should the voters
elect Rachel Alexandra over her.

Where no avatar was used, the full name has been abbreviated to simply the
first or last name.

Jeff says:

My gut feeling is that RA will be retired if she wins HOT Y and
Zenyatta stays in training. RA can’t hide in restricted 3yo races
this year, and she wants no part of Zenyatta.

Freespirit says:

Nah, I don’t think they will retire RA if she wins. Jackson won’t
do that, I don’t think. However, even though I would love to see
Zenyatta race again, not at the expense of her losing HOY. She so
deserves it. RA is great too, but I think Zenyatta is better.
Anne says:

I do not understand all of you East Coast-voters’ remarks always
against Zenyatta. It is getting to be ridiculous and childish. Did
that wine that Jess Jackson gave voters (that was announced) with
her picture on it cloud your brains? We KNOW it clouded your
votes. Stop it! RA can’t run a 11/4. She beat a bunch of has-beens
in the Woodward.

Zenyatta beat the best we and Europe had to offer in that BC
Classic this year. She ran for the first time and proved she can
handle it. She ran against the best males and beat them (why do
it in 3 when you can beat a field like this in 1 race?). She always
showed up and showed up in a fashion that we will NEVER see
again. She has class, charm and determination (her own, not that
brought on by 20+ whippings).

Give it a rest, Mr. Pricci.

Susan says:

Good Morning John,

I can tell you right now that this loyal Zenyatta fan is not rooting
for her to lose. And if the Mosses are keeping her in training, and
I hope they are, I don’t think her running hinges on the outcome
of HOT Y. Of course she is going to win, BUT either way it appears
that they may very well have a sound, fresh horse who has not
been damaged by the rigors of a gut-wrenching campaign. That is
the beauty and superiority of Zenyatta and ANOT HER testament
to her greatness.

Ron says:

Ah, come on you guys touting RA for HOT Y, can’t you read
a racing form’s past performance or watch a race? Take a look
at the older horses, horses that RA beat in NY. They certainly
weren’t the best or the same class that Zenyatta defeated in the
classic plus the three-year-old-colt crop sure wasn’t the best we
ever had. Not taking anything away from RA —she was definitely
an outstanding filly, but no Zenyatta.

Mike says:

RA is the HOY. Sorry Zenyat-iacs. Beating a few grass horses
on plastic tracks in dumpy bankrupt, fire-ridden California can’t
compare to winning 8 races on 7 tracks. The only thing preventing
RA from HOY honors is the anti-NY media bias.

Sheila says:

I love both horses. That being said, Zenyatta’s race in the BC was
great, a wow moment. Every time Rachel ran this past year was
a WOW moment. You can’t deny it! I think that’s all that needs
to be said!

ThePixiePoet says:

I’m from California, proving this is not an East Coast—West Coast
thing: I think Rachel Alexandra is the better horse. She should
(barring injuries) put a lid on all nay-sayers in this year’s campaign.
When Rachel is given more time to rest, she is a powerhouse. For
example, when Rachel was given 2 months off after the Preakness,
in her next race alone she broke 2 stakes records (time and winning
margin) and came within one second of the track record set by
Secretariat, while being eased!

Mark says:

When you go 14-0 against the best in the world, win 2 Breeders’
Cups and NOT win HOY, explain how there’s NOT an East
Coast bias?

Terlingua says:

The best horse of 2009 is quite simple. It’s not that hard, people.
Question: Who won the most money with less starts?
Answer: Zenyatta.

Anne M. says:

HOY is simple—Rachel Alexandra.
Zenyatta had one really good race the whole year and people
think she should be HOY??? NO WAY.

The room buzzed. Rachel Alexandra, as expected, won Champion Three-Year-
Old Filly. Zenyatta, as expected, won her second consecutive Champion Older
Mare. Then it was on to the big one, the Answer.

The video montage of Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta’s races called
hairs to an about-face. The announcer recited the select few female horses
that have also won Horse of the Year over the decades. It is a small sorority.
Rachel Alexandra soared through the fog; she launched for the wire.
Zenyatta charged wide off the turns, straightened, and, yes, she somehow
won. Fourteen races, fourteen wins, and fourteen photographs. The video’s
announcer, cognizant of the ongoing debate of who was best, said, “Tonight,
we finally get the answer.” The Answer.

The lights remained dim over the ballroom. Jess Jackson, dressed in
a tuxedo with wide lapels, sat in his chair. Jerry Moss was nearby, equally
dapper, his features sharp, his teeth gleaming, as if shined by Windex. His
wife Ann sat beside him. All three felt confident that their horses would win.
One would lose.

National Thoroughbred Racing Association president Alex Waldrop
shook the envelope in his right hand like a Polaroid picture, drew a breath,
and said, “The Eclipse Award for the 2009 Horse of the Year . . .”

Come back Thursday for another excerpt of Six Weeks in Saratoga. You can order a copy from SUNY Press or from a your favorite bookseller.

"Posted by permission from Six Weeks in Saratoga by Brendan O'Meara, the
State University of New York Press (c)2011, State University of New
York. All rights reserved."