The much anticipated race between Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta? Well, it's on, but only on paper. Horse racing's top two ladies will duke it out among voters for Horse of the Year honors after never meeting on the track.
Each of them have stellar credentials in trying to become the first female to win the year-end honor since Azeri in 2002.
Rachel Alexandra went 8 for 8 this year, including three wins over males, and became the first filly in 85 years to beat the boys in the Preakness Stakes.
Zenyatta improved to 14-0 for her career with a one-length victory against a loaded field of males in the Breeders' Cup Classic, many of whom Rachel Alexandra had already beaten.
The 5-year-old mare went 5 for 5 this year, but Saturday's race was her first against the boys. It was also likely her last. Trainer John Shirreffs said Sunday that Zenyatta would be sent to Kentucky to breed, even though Rachel Alexandra is expected to campaign next year.
So who rules in this Year of the Girl?
"You tell me," Shirreffs said.
It's a debate sure to simmer until January, when the Eclipse Awards _ the Oscars of horse racing _ are presented in Beverly Hills. Members of the National Turf Writers Association, the Daily Racing Form and racing secretaries at the major tracks decide the year's champion horses.
Even before Zenyatta's come-from-behind win Saturday, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert suggested the horses should share the top honor.
"If they don't reward her with Horse of the Year, it would be a travesty, or at least co-Horses of the Year," said Baffert, who trained sixth-place Classic finisher Richard's Kid. "It was the only time in horse racing that I didn't mind getting beat in a big race."
Chip Woolley Jr., trainer of Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, said before the Classic that Rachel Alexandra had already clinched Horse of the Year.
"She's put up eight races on eight different racetracks, beat the boys three times and beat the fillies," said Woolley, whose colt finished ninth in the Classic behind Zenyatta.
"The one thing everybody keeps forgetting, she beat the fillies with authority," he said of Rachel Alexandra. "She didn't win by a neck or a length or two lengths. She beat 'em by 20 and in a big gallop. When you look at that and you put everything together, I think she's a very deserving champion."
Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird was beaten by Rachel Alexandra in the Haskell Invitational and by Zenyatta in the Classic. His trainer, Tim Ice, was critical of Rachel's absence Saturday at Santa Anita.
"Each sport has their championship game," he said. "If you don't compete in the championship game, then you shouldn't be a champion. This is the highlight of the year as far as all the great horses coming together. This should name Horse of the Year."
Zenyatta's owners, Jerry and Ann Moss, are playing it down the middle.
"It's not really up to us," Jerry Moss said. "We just brought the horse here. We beat whoever showed up. I'm not taking anything away from that other filly. As I've always said, she ran a tremendous campaign, and they deserve a lot of credit. I think it's a tough one."
Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta didn't meet in the Breeders' Cup because Rachel's principal owner Jess Jackson dislikes Santa Anita's synthetic surface. The 3-year-old filly ran on eight different tracks while traveling the country this year.
Zenyatta, on the other hand, stayed exclusively in Southern California. The only time she ever ran outside the state was last year, when she won on dirt at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas.
Her jockey, Hall of Famer Mike Smith, is admittedly biased.
"I think it would be a crying shame if she didn't win Horse of the Year," he said. "I wish they would have brought her (Rachel) here so we could have proved to the racing world what Zenyatta's really about. I'm not going to go out and say I'm going to beat her, but I would have given anything to run against her."
Both horses were at Churchill Downs during Kentucky Derby week. Rachel Alexandra won the Derby-eve Kentucky Oaks for fillies by a record 20 1/4 lengths, while Zenyatta was scratched from her scheduled race because of a muddy track.
"She could've run just the same as everybody else on the mud that day. I think everybody's forgotten about that," Woolley said. "She's picked her spots very carefully."
The industry attempted to bring the filly from the East and mare from the West together on the track, but their respective owners were having none of it.
The Breeders' Cup offered to add $1 million to the winner's share of the Classic purse if both horses ran. Zenyatta earned $2.7 million for her victory.
Online wagering services TVG and Betfair Ltd. offered to raise the purse of the Beldame Stakes at Belmont Park on Oct. 3 to $1 million from $600,000 if Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta both ran, but neither showed up.
Like the Mosses, Jackson said he always put his horse's health and welfare ahead of running for big purses. Of course, neither owner had reason to chase the cash. Jerry Moss made his money in the music business as co-founder of A&M Records, while Jackson owns Kendall-Jackson Winery in Northern California.
Both camps earned industry-wide kudos for running their stars against the boys, which helped attract big crowds and public interest beyond racing fans.
"That's something you really got to pat them on the back for," Woolley said.