Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Wednesday November 10 2010

(Warning: Totally biased post!)

Zenyatta lost the Breeders' Cup Classic on Saturday by a sliver.

I was crushed.

I keep watching the replay of the race again and again, thinking she's going to get there this time.

You've heard the adage: The best horse in the race doesn't always win. Zenyatta was the best horse in this race, overcoming a huge deficit of at least 20 lengths behind the field, and having to check once in her stretch drive. As Tom Lamarra stated in the, "all she lost was a photo finish."

Zenyatta's critics said she couldn't run on the dirt, only synthetic tracks. And yet three of her best races came on three dirt tracks, including this loss by inches in her final race. They say she wouldn't have won 19 in a row in her come-from-behind style if she'd run on dirt tracks. I think she would have.

This "Blame is Horse of the Year" refrain that the TV reporters (who have no vote, by the way) started singing the second after the horses crossed the finish line was really annoying. So I'm starting my own campaign here.

What is Horse of the Year based on? The only requirement is that the horse should have made one North American start during the year. (See my other qualifications on what makes a horse Great.)

So seeing as both Blame and Zenyatta have satisfied that single requirement, let's compare the two.

4-year-old stallion, retired after this race with 9 wins, 2 seconds and 2 thirds out of 13 career starts. This year he won 4 of 5 starts, 3 of them Grade I wins. His one loss was by four lengths.

6-year-old mare. Out of 20 career starts: 19 wins in a row, a final loss in a narrow photo finish. Won 5 of 6 starts this year, 5 of them Grade I wins.

If Horse of the Year were determined by statistics alone, based on these statistics, Zenyatta should be Horse of the Year. Zenyatta could have retired before the Breeders Cup and probably been named Horse of the Year. Zenyatta could have run in the Ladies Classic in the Breeders Cup, but instead the fact that her owners put her up against the world's best males, once again, to attempt to repeat her Classic victory of last year, is only testament to their confidence in her greatness.

Here's another major aspect of the debate:

Who all came to Churchill Downs, and tuned into ESPN, to watch Blame run, and who all came to the track, and who tuned in to watch Zenyatta? How many fans carried Blame signs and how many carried Zenyatta signs? Which horse had a huge banner with her name on the roof of the Hollywood Park racetrack grandstand in California rooting her on? Which horse has a Breyer model made after her? Who got the public - old fans and new ones - excited about watching a horse race the last three years? Who was the celebrity, the darling of racing?

Zenyatta's owners and trainers allowed nearly free access to their champion. They offered her up for constant attention, letting people crowd around her, take photos, pose with her, even pet her and feed her treats (!). That's simply unheard of these days. Zenyatta was the Peoples' Horse, and people were allowed access to her. Zenyatta wasn't wrapped up in bubble wrap and kept away from her fans and the general public.

Who's going to remember Blame a year from now other than the horse that narrowly handed Zenyatta her only defeat? He was rushed off to retirement and the breeding shed after the Classic, at 4 years of age (early retirement is typical of the racing industry). If Blame was really that good a racehorse, racing fans will never know. Zenyatta ran till the end of her 6-year-old season (almost unheard of these days), when she could have run off to the breeding shed after the end of her 4-year-old undefeated year.

The horse racing industry has been lamenting for years (decades, even) that Thoroughbred racing is dying, racing needs a hero to come along.

She's been here. She is Zenyatta. People around the world will remember the great racehorse Zenyatta and what she gave to racing.

Few people, even critics, disagree that she's one of the best racemares ever. It's simply not a fluke to win 19 races in a row. To be denied a Horse of the Year title again (she lost in the voting to Rachel Alexandra last year - who had a great 3-year-old year but never reached her same form this year, and quietly faded off the track) would be a slap in the face to a horse who took horse racing by storm the last 3 years, who was the Hero racing was crying for, and who proved her greatness every time, even in her final defeat by inches. It would be a slap in the face to her legions of fans, who traveled across the country to see her run, who cheered for a horse for more than the mere statistics she provided, who worshipped a horse for her tenacity, her consistency, her brilliance, her accomplishments, her personality. Simply put: who's done more for horse racing in the last year - or in the last 30 years?

If you're basing Horse of the Year on one race, the Breeders Cup Classic, you can't - because then Zenyatta should have been Horse of the Year last year. If you're basing Horse of the Year on a continuation of perfection - especially at an age when most horses have long since retired, a horse who overcame the 'dirt track bias', a horse with her own website and merchandise to buy, wear, and hang on your walls, a horse who brought throngs to horse racing, a horse who became the Hero racing was looking for, it's Zenyatta.

Yes, there's emotion involved in the debate. But you can't take the emotion out of it. The emotion of horse racing, the emotion of Zenyatta running and winning again and again, and of losing her final race by inches, the emotion this horse has given to horse racing is what this sport is all about.

Zenyatta should be Horse of the Year.


(Top photo is not by me - I wish! - it's on .)


  1. I read about Zenyatta in your previous post, then read about the race that she lost by just a sliver. It's sad when the best horse doesn't win, and sad that she's not getting the credit she deserves for her years of success.
    She's obviously a great race horse, though, and those that count will remember.
    She'll make a comeback as a name in racing through her offspring, I'll bet.

  2. Total agreement here! What was the name of the TV telecast of the Breeder's Cup? "Breeders Cup Classic: Zenyatta, A Quest for Perfection" 'nuff said :)

  3. Agree with you 100%. The people who decide which horse wins this award will make a huge mistake if they do not choose Zenyatta.

  4. If that race had only been 5 or 10 feet longer she would have had the win. She didn't have a good start either, so the run from behind was even more amazing.

    She has my vote for "Horse of the Year," for sure. Guess we'll just have to wait and see.

  5. Thanks for posting the link to the race, I was thinking about her and wondering how she did. Watching that gave me goose-bumps! If the race was just a little bit longer she would have had him!

  6. Thank you so much for saying so eloquently and convincingly what thousands, millions are saying. Zenyatta is HOTY, horse of the decade, maybe the past 50 years.

  7. I think it was inches...actually half a second was all she needed! What a stunning run! I have gotten so besotted with The Queen that I cried for days after the race. I finally came to realize that she had to lose to squelch her critics! The great Andy Beyer said she was the best horse on the track and that the way she lost enobled her much more than her previous race last year. I find disgusting what Blame's owner said...crass and stupid. It's ironic that losing elevated Zanyatta in the eyes of her critics, and winning demoted Blame. Not to take anything away from Blame, but anyone watching that race knows that Blame could not have done what Zenyatta way if the situation were reversed. She had wings....all she needed was a half a second more and the outcome is completely different. She's actually in better company with 19 wins and 1 loss. There have been only two others at the top of the list of horses defeated only once: Native Dancer with 21 wins, 1 loss; Man o' War, 20-1; and Zenyatta with 19-1. You have drop way down on that list before you can find another U.S. horse you would recognize, with much fewer streaks and only 1 loss. But my favorite statement was by Peter Ellis, who said: "Here's the deal: She's THE horse of the last 40 years!" Love it!
    ~Ann Maree

  8. My other favorite quote comes from Steve Dillard, Zenyatta's exercise rider. He was asked who he thought she should be bred to. He said "Well, I don't really know, but whoever they choose, he will need stilts!"
    Ann Maree

  9. Well said and of course I agree with every particle of it. Also thought she should have won the Eclipse Award last year.

    And I wish the lesson about career longevity with a later start would sink in to owners' heads as well.

  10. Well said, Merri!!! Zenyatta has my vote all the way from Australia!!

  11. I wish it were up to the racing fans.

  12. So close...great race

  13. Great blogging Merri, Horse of the Year for sure!

  14. Couldn't have said it better~!!!