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2009: A year in review

Tabbed with the assignment of providing the 2009 Year-In-Review for ESPN.com, my first thoughts were Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta … and what else? I mean really. What else? If ever a singular calendar year was dominated by two horses, this fits the mold: a 1989-esque season of Sunday Silence and Easy Goer, a 1979 Affirmed and Spectacular Bid, a 1978 Affirmed and Alydar, if you will.

But we can't make this a two-horse year; that wouldn't be fair. So in the spirit of spreading the accolades and preserving some history, let's take a look at the two key horses of each month of 2009.

January: The undefeated New Mexico-bred Peppers Pride retired mid-month to a breeding career after the 6-year-old mare had rattled off 19 victories. Slough off her record to dominating state-breds, but a million bucks earned is a million bucks earned. While we said goodbye to a regional curiosity, we said "Helllllllllllllllllo" to a where'd-that-come-from performance by This Ones For Phil in the Sunshine Millions Dash. The Rick Dutrow recruit popped a Beyer Speed Figure (117) that made Andy B. himself question the LED indicator on his calculator.

February: Rachel Alexandra made her 2009 debut an eight-length punchout in the Martha Washington Stakes at Oaklawn. The Hot Springs venue also played host to Old Fashioned's easy victory in the one-mile Southwest Stakes during the month, propelling the Larry Jones trainee to No. 1 on most every Kentucky Derby wish list.

March: Sparks flew after the Florida Derby, almost as fast as they flew on the racetrack, as Quality Road set a Gulfstream Park track record over a course that runner-up trainer Todd Pletcher (Dunkirk) publicly alleged was biased against his horse. In a tale of irony, Pletcher would wind up Quality Road's trainer by season's end. Speaking of speed biases, what in the world was cooking at the Dubai World Cup, where Well Armed (remember him?) blasted an international line-up by a record 14 lengths?

April: I Want Revenge won the Wood Memorial in ever-dramatic style, would later be found to be injured and even later mired in the courts in a case of Who Knew What … and When? He has to go down as one of the most dramatically soaked Kentucky Derby morning line favorites who never was. Keeneland's race of the meeting was the Madison, where lady sprint stars Informed Decision and Ventura hooked up in a dandy, won by the former. Not coincidentally, Informed Decision would go on in the fall to wrest away the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint tiara from her rival.

May: The month could be summed up as the 24 hours of Calvin Borel's Wild Adventure. First, Rachel Alexandra did the unthinkable by winning the Kentucky Oaks by 20-1/4 lengths. Then, Mine That Bird did something no one even bothered to think about, win the Kentucky Derby at 50-1 odds. Then, two weeks and a jockey soap opera later, the two hit the wire together at Pimlico in a Preakness we'll never forget.

June: Summer Bird went from March maiden to Belmont Stakes winner in less than three months when he registered a no-doubt victory in the final jewel of the Triple Crown. And, granted, Rachel Alexandra was MIA in the Belmont Stakes, but was front-and-center that same month when she blitzed just two rivals in the Mother Goose Stakes by 19-plus lengths. A final time of 1:46-1/5 time for 1-1/8 miles defied the discussion of whom she beat.

July: Presious Passion flashed the coolest race seen in some time, speed-popping the United Nations Handicap with early fireworks. The turf ace opened up a 20-length lead and obliterated the Monmouth course record by nearly two full seconds. Rail Trip turned in the most impressive performance in the California handicap division all season when he won the Hollywood Gold Cup over a field that included the likes of next-out Whitney winner Bullsbay and eventual Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic heroine Life Is Sweet.

August: With a Travers watered down minus the Derby and Preakness winners, this month totally belonged to the big two of 2009, Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta. The former splashed past all challengers, including the eventual Travers champ Summer Bird, in an emphatic Haskell win. Meanwhile, Zenyatta's perfect streak came closest to ending in the Clement Hirsch at Del Mar, forced to rally to win by a furious head. High drama at the high seas, indeed.

September: More important horses raced during the month, but the quiet retirement of 10-year-old turf stalwart Better Talk Now certainly cannot be forgotten. When an industry clamors about not keeping stars around, for the 2004 Breeders' Cup Turf champ to be competing at top levels in 2009 is nothing short of salute-able. But this month, too, belonged to the filly that everyone was talking about. By beating the older males in the Woodward at Saratoga, Rachel Alexandra made an early curtain call to her '09 season one that will go down in history.

October: Even if he didn't race in America, the Arc de Triomphe buzz created by Sea the Stars trickled across the pond and briefly kindled spark for November's Breeders' Cup, if only among the racing websites. Some international flavor did sail to America in October as Gitano Hernando upset the Goodwood at Oak Tree, stoking the flames that any one, from any where, could have a case for the soon-to-come 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic.

November: Zenyatta stole the show at the Breeders' Cup, winning her career finale in dramatic style over the boys in the Classic. In her wake were the winners of nearly every major race in the division this year (sans you-know-who). Meanwhile, Ventura exacted her loss in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint when she scored Hollywood's Matriarch in emotional style, just 12 days after the passing of her trainer, legendary Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel.

December: Lookin at Lucky stamped himself as the 2010 Kentucky Derby winter book favorite with a professional score in the CashCall Hollywood Futurity. A winter with Bob Baffert surfing the big waves always makes for a more entertaining run. On the '10 Oaks front, Blind Luck announced her intentions to rock when she crushed the Hollywood Starlet competition by seven lengths. After all, why shouldn't a filly show up the colts in 2009, even at last call?

Jeremy Plonk has been an ESPN.com contributor since 2000. You can E-mail Jeremy about this topic or anything racing-related at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.