Dean over at Pull the Pocket discusses Rachel Alexandra's latest loss at Saratoga and commented how she is a shadow of herself when compared to last year. He mentions how he is glad Zenyatta didn't show up to race in the same contest as a Zenyatta victory would have brought back all the conversations of last year's thoroughbred Horse of the Year contest, in effect cheapening Rachel's efforts last year.
So how does Rachel Alexandra end up in a standardbred racing blog? We can learn from Rachel Alexandra's less than stellar performance this year. While we have not been hearing it this year, almost every year we have been hearing how [fill in the name] is the greatest [trotter/pacer] which ever lived. Yes, some of the hype is puffery for the benefit of a horse's breeding career, some of it just makes for a good story. Either way, it usually is not true.
As with two year olds, some three year olds are just far ahead of their peers at that point of their career. Either the horse was precocious or carefully managed to get to certain races in peak form while others were raced harder which didn't allow them to be sharp for each contest. However, at four and up, there is no such thing as a precocious horse and the benefits of a carefully managed campaign disappears. We are then able to judge horses at their true level of ability.
Rachel Alexandra was heads above last year's three year old thoroughbred crop. Something happened over the winter. The rest of the horses have caught up to her. The great three year old filly has turned into a mere mortal. This doesn't cheapen Rachel Alexandra; she is the greatest three year old filly that ever raced, until another three year old filly comes around and does what Rachel did and more, nothing will take it away from her. Our Somebeachsomewheres and Muscle HIlls may have left the racing scene with their reputations intact but by not competing in the FFA ranks we will never know where they rank against the all time-best. They may be the best three year olds ever, but nothing more.