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STABLE NOTES BY ED GOLDEN
HORSE OF YEAR DEBATE CONTINUES AS ANNOUNCEMENT NEARS
Horse of the Year 2009 will be announced Monday night at the annual Eclipse Awards dinner in Beverly Hills. There are two finalists: the filly Rachel Alexandra, unbeaten in eight starts as a 3-year-old, winning at seven different tracks, defeating males three times, including in the Preakness Stakes and the Woodward Stakes; and the mare Zenyatta, now age six, who made history by becoming the first female to defeat males in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, climaxing an undefeated career in 14 starts.
Both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta have drawn high praise. Some say it would be unfair for either to lose. But one will.
Following is an informal sampling of opinions from local media and horsemen:
TRAINER DAVID BERNSTEIN: Both are well-deserved, but I’m leaning towards Zenyatta because I’ve seen her perform out here, and she was extremely impressive when she beat the best field in the country (in the Classic).
TRAINER JACK CARAVA: I think it should be Zenyatta, but I’ve spent more time watching her run than the other one. People who are supposedly in the know say Rachel Alexandra, but it would be nice if they both could get it.
BRAD FREE, DAILY RACING FORM: Zenyatta was the 2009 Horse of the Year, and yes, it was an easy call. Zenyatta started perfect, stayed perfect, and in the Breeders’ Cup Classic she trounced winners of the Arlington Million, Jockey Club Gold Cup and Belmont, Travers, Pacific Classic, and Kentucky Derby. Zenyatta also defeated Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Life Is Sweet three times. As for Rachel Alexandra, sure, she had a good year. But I believe on any surface at any distance, Zenyatta would run past Rachel Alexandra every time. Maybe in 2010 we'll find out for sure.
JOHN HARRIS, CHAIRMAN OF THE CALIFORNIA HORSE RACING BOARD AND OWNER/BREEDER: I could make a good case for either one. Sentimentally, I’d go for Zenyatta, because she won the Classic and is undefeated in her career.
TRAINER STEVE KNAPP: Rachel Alexandra ran in several different types of races and beat the boys three times. I think she accomplished more, but I think Zenyatta’s also a great horse. If I was voting, I’d go for Rachel Alexandra.
BOB MIESZERSKI, TODAYSRACINGDIGEST.COM: Rachel Alexandra would be my choice because I believe her overall body of work in 2009 was more impressive than Zenyatta. She won more Grade I stakes and was able to win at various places while Zenyatta, as impressive as she was in the Breeders' Cup, never left California.
HEAVY WORKLOAD FORCES STEVENS TO GIVE UP TRAINING
Citing existing and future commitments that could impede his training of Thoroughbreds, Gary Stevens will end that aspect of his multi-faceted career on Feb. 13.
“Diamondrella will be my last runner in the Santa Maria (Handicap on Feb. 13),” said the Hall of Fame jockey who won critical acclaim in his acting debut portraying George (The Iceman) Woolf in the hit 2003 film, “Seabiscuit.”
“NBC’s signing on to cover six more races had a lot to do with my decision,” said Stevens, who lends his analytical expertise on racing to that network as well as HRTV. “It means I have to do a lot more homework. With the Kentucky Derby and other relevant races, the television commitments could keep me away for 3 1/2 months.
“I’m also doing an HBO show for (David) Milch,” continued Stevens, who turns 47 on March 6, and who began training last July at Del Mar. “The combination is just too much. It’s not fair to my family, anybody, including myself. I’ve been going hard, hard, hard; I love what I’m doing. I’ll just put everything in storage for about 10 years, and do it again when the time’s right.”
SANTA ANITA, JOCKEYS, WEST POINT OWNERS ASSIST WITH HAITIAN AID
As news of the devastating 7.3 earthquake which struck the Caribbean island nation of Haiti Tuesday continues to unfold, the Santa Anita jockeys and Santa Anita Park have joined forces to send aid via the American Red Cross beginning Sunday.
“We initiated plans to try and help with this on Wednesday,” said Santa Anita President Ron Charles. “Alex Solis then contacted me on Thursday and said that a number of jockeys would be interested in donating mount fees or a percentage of their winnings from a designated race day, in order to try and help. We, of course, welcomed their support and we contacted the Arcadia chapter of the American Red Cross and they have agreed to coordinate this effort for us. This is a great gesture on the part of the jockeys and we are more than happy to partner with them in trying to help.”
Jeff Bloom, Executive Vice President of West Coast operations for West Point Thoroughbreds, said it would pledge $10,000 towards the relief effort on behalf of West Point partners Louis Lakin and R.D. Hubbard, owners of the filly Justwhistledixie, who runs in Sunday’s El Encino Stakes.
“Hopefully, the actions initiated by Santa Anita and the jockeys will generate funds quickly,” Bloom said. “We want to try and support the effort any way we can.”
The public is invited to join in this effort as well. The Red Cross will be at Santa Anita Sunday to assist in collecting aid. Red Cross volunteers, dressed in red coats, will be positioned at both of the track’s main admission gates and will have five gallon collection buckets available for donations.
According to initial estimates, as many as three million people may have been affected by the quake, and it is feared there could be as many as 50,000 deaths. Thousands of buildings and residences have collapsed and many areas remain inaccessible.
In addition to on-track contributions this Sunday, people are encouraged to make donations to the American Red Cross International Response Fund at www.redcross.org, or by calling 1-800-REDCROSS (1-800-733-2767).
The Red Cross is also receiving money through a third party mobile fundraising effort sponsored by Mobile Accord. Mobile donors can text “Haiti” to 90999 to send a $10 donation to the Red Cross. These funds will go to support the Red Cross relief efforts in Haiti.
FINISH LINES: Kentucky Derby Future Book favorite Lookin At Lucky worked five furlongs on Pro-Ride Saturday in :59 seconds under former jockey Joe Steiner. Again wearing blinkers, the colt worked in company with Toro Bonito, who was clocked in 1:00. “He was way behind Toro Bonito early . . . He relaxed better behind horses,” trainer Bob Baffert said . . . Undefeated Caracortado, prepping for the Robert B. Lewis Stakes on Feb. 6, worked six furlongs on Pro-Ride in 1:13.40 under regular rider Paul Atkinson. “The horse is doing good,” trainer Mike Machowsky said . . . Track superintendent Richard Tedesco said rain is expected to start around 6 p.m. Sunday, “and as we get closer into the early morning, it will get progressively worse. We’re going to have rain off and on all week, six to eight inches at the track, and 15, maybe 20 in the foothills. I’m closing the track for training on Monday.” . . . Flavien Prat, a 17-year-old apprentice rider from France, won his first race in the United States Friday when he piloted 50-1 shot Heavenly n’ Free from last in a field of five to win the third race by a neck. “It brings a lot joy,” Prat said through trainer Leonard Powell, who interpreted. “He plans to ride here one more month before returning to France.” Heavenly n’ Free, which paid $103.40, is one of two horses trained by Suzanne Rodriguez . . . HRTV will carry the Horse of the Year announcement live Monday from the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. The announcement is expected to take place at 7:15 p.m. As previously announced, TVG has exclusive coverage of the Eclipse Awards, but will allow HRTV to also carry the announcement live on their network. HRTV’s “Inside Information: Nowhere to Run,” which was awarded a 2009 Eclipse Award for National Television Feature Honorable Mention, will have a special encore presentation Sunday at 6 p.m. . . . All THOROUGHBREDS members will receive a free Santa Anita collectible ice bucket while supplies last on Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. First post time is 12:30 p.m. Santa Anita will be dark for live racing on Tuesday and Wednesday, Jan. 19 and 20 . . . Entering Saturday’s races, there were 39 contestants alive in ShowVivor.