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Thursday, June 17, 2010
Rachel and Zenyatta by the numbers

By Jeremy Plonk
Special to ESPN.com

You neither want nor need another opinion on the Rachel Alexandra versus Zenyatta crossfire. I'll leave that to others. Instead, let's just stick to the facts about the sport's only two buzz saws capable of remotely warming up the general public.

With all due respect to Quality Road, no one without Daily Racing Form ink already staining his or her fingers is going to click over a turnstile to come see you. It's kind of like Joe Mauer versus Derek Jeter in baseball terms. Mauer consistently ranks among the top 5 of any major publication's best players in MLB, but whom do you want to book for your next autograph signing if you own the local mall? There's no power like star power in this society.

You can't go wrong loving either or both of these great distaffers, Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta. Here's how they stack up after some interesting numbers-crunching.

Career starts: Even-steven, but only in total.

Both fillies have now reached the 17-start mark in their careers, albeit with Rachel Alexandra only midway through her 4-year-old season and Zenyatta residing at the same point in her 6-year-old campaign. Consider in direct comparison: By the calendar point in which Zenyatta made her career debut in November of her 3-year-old season, Rachel Alexandra had already raced 14 times and completed her epic season that would lead to a Horse of the Year tiara.

Stakes appearances: Not as close as you think.

Zenyatta has raced in Grade 1 and Grade 2 stakes races in 15 of her 17 career starts, including every single start since she opened her career with wins in maiden and allowance company. Rachel Alexandra has raced in Grade 1 or Grade 2 stakes 10 times from 17 outings, most notably wins in all five Grade 1 starts of her career. Zenyatta's Grade 1 résumé includes an astounding 11 victories from as many attempts.

Weight carried: Toting the groceries.

Zenyatta has carried 123 or more pounds in 12 of her 17 career starts, including the past 12 straight outings, and upward of 129 pounds twice. Rachel Alexandra did not carry 123 pounds in any of her first 14 starts, but has toted 123 or 124 pounds in each of her three starts this year. In all fairness, Rachel Alexandra has yet to hit the handicap ranks within her division, where the most weight would be applied.

For a historical footnote in modern times, superhorse Cigar raced consistently in the handicap ranks in 1995 and 1996, and he carried 130 pounds on two occasions. He carried 123 pounds or more only 12 times in 33 starts, and only three times exceeded 126 pounds (128, 130, 130).

Field sizes: Fewer smiling faces.

Only 22 rivals have lined up to take on Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta in their five combined starts this year. Throughout her career, Rachel Alexandra has faced 107 rivals cumulatively in 17 starts, while Zenyatta has faced 103. Rachel Alexandra has squared off with eight or more rivals six times overall, while Zenyatta has tackled as many challengers in a race just twice (career debut and the 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic).

Margin of victory:

Rachel Alexandra has eight wins of three or more lengths from her 12 victories, while Zenyatta owns five wins by a margin of three or more lengths from her 17-for-17 mark. Rachel Alexandra's scores have come by an average margin of seven lengths, while Zenyatta has won by an average of two lengths.

Road trips: There's no place like home.

This is an interesting one, passed along to me by my friend Walker McBride at Del Mar. Taking a look at the training locations and mileage accrued while traveling to and from races during their careers, Google maps and McBride's curiosity combine to surprise. Zenyatta has ventured approximately 7,314 miles during her 17-race career, while Rachel Alexandra has ventured 6,072 miles during that span. And those figures do not include the 4,210 round-trip miles Zenyatta went in 2009 for a Churchill Downs scratch in the Louisville Distaff Breeders' Cup. To be fair, 6,620 of Zenyatta's frequent-flier miles came in two round trips to Oaklawn for the 2009 and '10 Apple Blossom. Still, it's a fun number. Of Zenyatta's 17 starts, nine have come when she's been able to walk out of her current home stall to the paddock. Rachel Alexandra has made home-court starts in 12 of 17 lifetime starts.

Internet frenzy: It's all that matters in this era, isn't it? LOL.

Zenyatta's Facebook page is liked by 16,882 fans as of Thursday morning, while Rachel Alexandra's page is liked by 8,652 fans. In terms of Facebook friends (Can't we all just get along?), Zenyatta has 19,019 between her athlete and public figure pages, while Rachel Alexandra has 10,205 over those same two pages. But on Google, it's all about Rachel, coming up with 379,000 searches versus 176,000 for Zenyatta. All those press releases and the key Triple Crown appearance and victory certainly do get you more media coverage.

Jeremy Plonk has been an ESPN.com contributor since 2000 and is the owner of the handicapping-based website HorseplayerNOW.com. You can e-mail Jeremy your Top 20 contenders list, or any questions about the 3-year-old or national racing scene, at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.