Finally, after much anticipation and an uncertain outcome, the Eclipse Horse of the Year prize has been awarded to Rachel Alexandra. The female horse received 130 votes while her competitor Zenyatta received 99 votes. The result was difficult to guess since there was little difference between the horses: they both are females who defeated males last year, none of them lost a race in 2009 and they both accomplished historic achievements.
Voters included members of the National Turf Writers Association, employees of The Daily Racing Form and racing secretaries representing tracks that are members of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. They had to decide which of the horses deserved the award, since they had never raced against one another.
Last year, Rachel Alexandra won eight races and defeated males three times in the Preakness, the Haskell and Woodward. She became the first filly to win the Preakness and the middle leg of the Triple Crown since 1924 and was the first filly to win the Woodward.
Meanwhile, Zenyatta won five races, all of them in California, and defeated males once in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita. She was the first female to win that race, an event where Rachel Alexandra did not compete because owner Jess Jackson does not like synthetic racing surfaces. Zenyatta supporters and Jackson’s critics agreed that Zenyatta deserved the title of best horse of the year because she showed up on one of the biggest days in horseracing.
The award was announced a day after trainer John Shirrefs informed that Zenyatta was coming out of retirement. This announcement opened a door to speculation that Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta would finally meet. Trainer Shirrefs also said that Zenyatta might make her 2010 debut on March 13 in the Santa Margarita race at Santa Anita. The next meeting for the 6-year-old could be the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn on April 3.
Rachel Alexandra was also selected champion 3-year-old and Zenyatta was selected as the best older filly or mare champion. Other awards included Lookin At Lucky (2-year-old male), She Be Wild (2-year-old filly), Summer Bird (3-year-old male), Gio Ponti (turf male and older male), Informed Decision (female sprinter), Kodiak Kowboy (male sprinter), Goldikova (female turf horse) and Mixed Up (steeplechase horse). Julien Leparoux was selected top jockey and Steve Asmussen was chosen as the outstanding trainer.