While many racing fans were hoping Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta would square off in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, prominent equine surgeon Larry Bramlage said recently that Rachel Alexandra’s connections did the right thing when they ended her 2009 campaign following the 3-year-old filly’s Sept. 5 victory by a head over Macho Again in the Woodford Stakes (gr. I).
“After 11 races (in less than a year), I’m glad they gave her a break,” said Dr. Bramlage during the American Association of Equine Practitioners’ 55th annual convention Dec. 5-9 in Las Vegas. “After the race she ran in the Woodward, when she basically ran her guts out, she needed time to recuperate and there was only a limited amount of time before the Breeders’ Cup.
"When horses campaign for more than a year and try to stay at the top level, their skeletons begin to fatigue; the same thing happens in the human athlete. It’s very tough to stay peaked for longer than a year, so I like to see horses after a year’s heavy campaigning getting a break of a couple of months because their skeleton has to catch up. They accumulate a lot of little damage that can then become something major, so I think it was good management of her career (to give Rachel Alexandra time off) even though I would have loved to have seen her running head-and-head with Zenyatta.”
Bramlage, who is based at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, operated on Rachel Alexandra’s left front ankle when she was a 2-year-old and removed a large bone chip and multiple fragments. As a member of the AAEP’s “On Call” program that provides veterinary expertise at major racing events, Bramlage has seen both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta race in person.
“I think it would have been a hard race to handicap,” said Bramlage, a former AAEP president, of the result had Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta met on the track. “Orginally, I would have said Zenyatta would have won because she’s older, stronger, and bigger. But if you look at Rachel’s race in the Woodward, she defeated not only the front-runners and the challenge in the middle, but she also beat Macho Uno at the end, so we may not have seen the best of her yet. The nice thing is the debate. It keeps people talking, and that’s good for racing. The two greatest horses this year are females, and that’s another good thing for the sport.”