She’s Baaack!!!

Super filly Rachel Alexandra returns to action today for the first time since her impressive win in the Preakness. She’ll return at Belmont, the track she avoided by skipping the Belmont Stakes earlier this month. Though she has never won on the track, and her jockey Calvin Borel is both inexperienced and unsuccessful on the surface, she finds herself in a very good spot to win. She’s back against the fillies in the Mother Goose Stakes, a race run at a mile and an eighth that has attracted just four challengers for the big filly. Though it’s a small field, and Rachel Alexandra is the clear and deserving favorite, it’s still an interesting group that has gathered to face her. Here’s a look:

Flashing is the class of the field behind the favorite. Owned by Darley Stables, the Dubai-based mega-stable – the horse comes in having won four of her last five, including an impressive score on this track in her stakes debut last time out. She came out of that race well, though she is sitting on a longer layoff than I prefer – her last race was May 2. This is an obvious jump in class for her, but she appears to be ready for it. There’s just one other stakes winner in the field – Don’t Forget Gil. She has some nice performances in her past, but she was absolutely crushed last time out in the Black Eyed Susan on Preakness day, so it’s hard to really take her seriously here. Her connections say she was sick on that day, though, so maybe she has more in her.

Of the non-winners, one is a joke and the other may be the best challenger in the field. Hopeful Image is winless in seven stakes starts, and she had to drop back to optional claiming company last time to finally get a win. She’s totally out of place here. Malibu Prayer is another story. She’s making her stakes debut for Todd Pletcher , but she has been incredibly impressive in her last two starts, winning by a combined margin of more than 20 lengths. She’ll make it interesting, but this is still clearly a race for one horse to lose.

Similarly unchallenged this weekend is the other super filly – five year old Zenyatta. That undefeated runner returns to the track in California to run in, and presumably crush the field of, the Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park. There are seven runners scheduled to try to stop Zenyatta and Mike Smith from winning their 11th straight, though only two – Dawn After Dawn and Briecat – have won stakes races before. Of interest to sports fans, one of the fillies, Hot n’ Dusty, is co-owned by radio host Jim Rome. There is nothing to be concerned about here in terms of class. The only potential worry is weight. This is a handicap, so better horses carry more weight. Zenyatta will be carrying 129 pounds. That’s a serious amount – 13 pounds more than any other runner, and 18 lighter than the lightest runner in the field. That could be a potential problem – a pound is thought to add about 1/5 of a second with all other things being equal – but I still don’t see it being enough to make this one particularly interesting.

The worst part of seeing these two female mega-stars race against outmatched fields on the same day is that we now know they are almost certain not to meet up with each other at any time. Rachel Alexandra is not going to Santa Anita for the Breeders’ Cup because her owner Jess Jackson doesn’t like synthetic surfaces.Zenyatta seems to prefer synthetic surfaces, and shows little interest in leaving California. That means we won’t get a chance to see what are likely the two best horses in the country meet. Rachel Alexandra will be back next year if she stays healthy and successful, but Zenyatta is almost certainly in her final season, so this is a real wasted opportunity for a sport that could really use a boost like what a race between these two incredible runners would give them.

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