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Racing Rivalries: Round Two

As horse racing grew over the course of the twentieth century, and the number of horses in training expanded exponentially, so did the number of head to head battles and recurring rivalries in the sport. Here are a few more historic duelers to get us ready for the impending meeting of Blind Luck and Havre de Grace this weekend.

The 1980s: Alysheba and Bet Twice
It seems that along with his great racing prowess, Alydar also left an extra-competitive spirit to his progeny, Alysheba. Known as “America’s Horse” during his career, Alysheba was also known for his ongoing duel with rival Bet Twice. The pair met nine times during three- and four-year-old years.  While victory eluded both of them on two occasions, Alysheba made it to the wire four times to Bet Twice’s three. An interesting  note: while his sire Alydar missed winning the Triple Crown by coming in second to Affirmed in all three races, Alysheba’s near miss came by defeat in the Belmont to none other than his very worthy adversary, Bet Twice.



The 1990s: Silver Charm and Free House
East met West when Silver Charm and Free House competed for the same purses. In 1997, California-bred Free House was the reigning three-year-old champion in his state. Already at home he competed against Florida-bred Silver Charm three times on the track; he beat his rival in the San Felipe Stakes and the Santa Anita Derby, while succumbing to his talents in the San Vincente. Their rivalry established they moved east, both seeking Triple Crown glory. Silver Charm would cross the wire first at both Churchill Downs and Pimlico, Free House finishing third and second in those races, respectively. One trip around the Big Sandy was all that Silver Charm needed to become the twelfth winner of the elusive crown. Free House was on hand that day as well, ready to do battle once more. While the California-bred would not be victorious that day in June, but neither would Silver Charm; it would be Touch Gold across the finish line first with Silver Charm and then Free House following.  They would meet twice more and each defeat the other one last time. It would be Silver Charm first at the 1998 Goodwood Breeders’ Cup Handicap (G2) and Free House taking the 1999 Santa Anita Handicap (G1). Final tally of their eight meetings: Silver Charm  4, Free House 3, and neither horse 1.





The 2000s: Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta
The paper challenge of the decade. While they never met on the track—despite some significant enticements to do so—these two leading ladies have inspired the dreams of many a fan.  Dreams in which they actually do meet, race, and at the wire it’s . . . Well, you fill in the blank with your favored gal! Zenyatta, the California girl, and Rachel Alexandra, who won over fans all along the Eastern seaboard, both have remarkable racing records and earnings which speak for themselves. But what I think makes them both particularly special is the dedication of their fans and the excitement and interest they generated for the sport. Maybe it was a “girl power” thing, maybe it was just the idea of a race between the two, but whenever either name came up, conversations always became more heated. I saw Rachel Alexandra win the Woodward at Saratoga in 2009 and witnessed Zenyatta’s final race—and only defeat—in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs in 2010. I’d never seen so many fans on the rail at Saratoga than were there for Rachel, and I’d never seen so many fans anywhere than came out to see Zenyatta.  I am thankful for them both and look forward to seeing their foals run in a few years. Who knows, maybe they will meet each other on the track someday.


 

What the Nation is saying about Racing Rivalries: Round Two...

Great stuff, Melaina. I'm happy that you included one of my all-time favorite rivalries, Free House & Silver Charm. I mention Free House first simply because he was one of my all-time favorite horses. It still stings that Charm got the better of him in all 3 Triple Crown legs, evern though House ran big each time. What a Preakness it was!
Great blog, Silver Charm and Free House were two of my favorite horses, but I don't consider Silver Charm an eastern horse, he was trained and stabled in California and ran the majority of his races in California. I believe the best East-West rivalry of the 1980's was Sunday Silence and Easy Goer.
  • MBPhipps · True, Silver Charm spent most of his time in California, not entirely an "Eastern" horse. Sunday Silence and Easy Goer definitely pit East against West more significantly; I love that matchup as well. I'm thinking I need another post... · 1010 days ago ·
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I think the best rivalry that actually happened in the 2000's was among the Class of 2007 - Street Sense, Curlin, Hard Spun (& to a lesser extent Any Given Saturday) beat up on each other all year, in all of the major 3yo races. They all even showed up in the BC Classic. That's a great rivalry. Nice work on the retrospective :)
  • MBPhipps · Street Sense-Curlin-Hard Spun was definitelly one of the best. I have a soft spot for the ladies, that's for certain! The truth is there are probably enough rivalries to keep me posting for a very long time! · 1010 days ago ·
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  • MBPhipps · The Streeet Sense-Curlin-Hard Spun triangle was very exciting, for certain. No doubt, I do have a soft spot for the girls! The truth is that there are enough rivalries to keep me posting for a very long time. No doubt I'll be reprising this topic again! · 1010 days ago ·
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Meet Melaina Phipps

I came to horseracing only about a decade ago. (And no, I am no relation to the celebrated racing family of the same name.) My equine interests prior to that began, as they do for most young girls, with riding lessons and horse shows, and ended up with me playing polo while a graduate student at UVA and thereafter. It was entirely unexpected that I should spend time on the backstretch at Saratoga in the summer and on the rail at Payson Park in Florida in the winter watching some of the best trainers and horses in the country work. But that’s where I found myself and where my interest in this wild ride of an industry took shape. I don’t exercise racehorses; I don’t work with a trainer.  I watch, I listen, I ask a lot of questions, and I learn.  I enjoy supporting equine charities. Sometimes I bet a little.

I leave the handicapping and serious race talk and examination to those more knowledgeable than I. What I’d like to share through Around the Oval are some of the myriad observations, stories, histories, events, charities, places, and personalities that make up the variegated landscape of the Thoroughbred racing industry. If you find any—or all—of it interesting, please leave comments. Have any particular interests you’d like to read about? Send word—suggestions are more than welcome!