Sunday, November 7, 2010

Zenyatta: Even When She Loses She Wins

In the moments leading up the Breeders' Cup Classic, Woodbine's third-floor hardcore watched intently as Zenyatta danced under the Twin Spires. Even the classic two-dollar bettors making plays on the Northfield snow stopped to watch. From the time the horses took to the post parade, it was all eyes on Zenyatta - even when viewed from hundreds of miles away and on tiny little monitors.

Don't Blame me...

Matt Wooley/EquiSport Photos

The gate opened and Zenyatta rope-a-doped the field through the opening quarter trailing by more lengths than she could possibly make up. "What are they doing," warbled a voice quietly.

In the midst of the biggest race of the season, announcer Trevor Denman was doing everything he could to urge Mike Smith to push Zenyatta closer to the field. Had you asked anyone watching at Woodbine, they probably couldn't have told you who had the lead at the first call, or even the second. Dozens of us - and, likely thousands more watching world over - were viewing the race from right-to-left wondering when Zenyatta would make her move.

As the field turned into the stretch, Zenyatta was facing a plethora of problems. For one, she was still dead last. Second, the wall of horses in front of Zenyatta provided Smith with a moving obstacle course. And, perhaps most important of all, unseen to most of the patrons that were busy focusing on Smith's inside/outside trip dilemma was the fact that Garrett Gomez had already started a brilliant move with Blame. On the third floor, all was eerily silent.

So close

Alex Evers/ Equisport Photos

The stretch run produced a display of athleticism that created a tennis match for the Woodbine patrons as heads swiveled to the back of the pack to check on Zenyatta and then returning focus to the lead to see Gomez put away his old friend Lookin at Lucky. Smith chose to get outside with Zenyatta and then straightened the big mare out as Musket Man fired across her path. "Here she comes," roared a punter. But there would be no fairytale ending this time as Gomez and Blame flew ever forward, straight-as-an-arrow, and pierced the hearts of the racing nation to defeat Zenyatta by the narrowest of margins.

Still #1 to many...

Wendy Wooley/EquiSport Photos

In defeat, Zenyatta made believers out of the doubters who questioned her greatness. Some experts believed Zenyatta's five G1 victories this season was easy fodder and suggested that she would be found out in the Classic. Instead, the experts found out that Zenyatta was just as special as advertised and, in demonstrating her class, this loss will prove to be a win in the long run.

Watching Zenyatta race was incredible, but it's left me with a growing appetite. Hey, Mr. Shirreffs: Please, sir, I want some more.

Blame defeats Zenyatta in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic

* * *

For the next several weeks, there will be great debate over who should win 2010 horse of the year honours and where Zenyatta ranks amongst the all-time greats.

Blame has four wins from five starts - including G1 scores in the Stephen Foster Handicap and the Whitney. Zenyatta has five G1 wins from six starts. Goldikova, who won her third BC Mile, has five wins (all G1) from six starts - four of them against the boys.

I do not have a vote and I would be happy to see any of the above take the prize.

The biggest Zenyatta fan I know, and a great judge of racing talent, is Larry Zap and he typed out several Tweets that I agree with:

"in all honesty...i am glad i don't vote for HOY...Blame earned it...Zenyatta deserves it...Goldikova hit it out of the park."

"what's interesting about Blame...he puts 4 lengths on Lookin at Lucky in the last 1/8 of a mile...L@L was a little wide, but Blame ran huge!"

"give Blame credit...Zenyatta had him in her sights & he dug in those last 50 yards...he also stayed in front of her after wire-both ran huge"

There were strong words from the winning connections of Blame, as reported by Beth Harris for the Associated Press:

"I thought the battle for Horse of the Year was fought about a half-hour ago, and Blame won it," said Seth Hancock of Claiborne Farm, which co-owns Blame.

"She's a great horse, Zenyatta is. But she had her shot to get by, and she didn't do it. So I don't think you can vote for her."

The winning conditioner was a little more forgiving.

"Zenyatta didn't lose anything," winning trainer Al Stall Jr. said. "I don't think you'll find anybody criticizing anything she's ever done, much less today. It was just two very good horses, and everybody talked about it coming down to these two for a long time. We were fortunate to have the right horse on the right day at the right time."

It will be interesting to see if Team Zenyatta might consider returning for one more year.

* * *

I will have more on the BC2010 tomorrow.

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Anonymous said...

Hancock's gotta campaign - HOTY means more to Claiborne financially. For Shirreffs and the Mosses, it's a desire for their mare to get the credit she's been denied. If I had a vote, it'd go to Zenyatta. A nose loss when she was clearly the better horse proves more to me than a desperate nose victory after a perfect trip.

Gordon said...

It was an awesome to witness the race in person. At first I didn't think Zenyatta was doing much. Then I saw her make her move and lost my voice in the process.

Keith-TripleDeadHeat said...

Thank you both for your comments.

The big mare sure did put on a show. I have a feeling she'll get the HOTY honours though I'd feel hard done by if I owned Blame.

Anonymous said...

Zenyatta deserves HOTY. She has done more for horse racing then Blame will ever achieve. Zenyatta is not only Queen Z, she is an ambassador for the sport. If life time achievement awards were given, Zenyatta would certainly deserve that accalade.

Ernie said...

Nice call on Big Drama - thought he'd get buried inside.

Terrific wrap, Keith