Zenyatta Battles Blame in Breeders' Cup, Horse of the Year Race
Kentucky Derby Home Hosts Cup
Thoroughbred racing may retire two great horses soon, superstars, Zenyatta and Breeders' Cup Classic winner, Blame. You may be familiar with the tale. Zenyatta (19 wins, 0 losses) and past Classic winner, was seeking a perfect record with her 20th start at the Breeders' Cup held November 6, 2010 at Churchill Downs.
But is she Horse of the Year?
Zenyatta has attracted a huge fan base. She is a marvelous athlete, over 17 hands tall with a magnificent mahogany coat and Incredible Hulk musculature. But, despite her awesome pedigree, she is playfully personable -- known for her high stepping jaunt to the starting gates and mouthing her tongue -- almost in response to those who doubt her greatness.
And despite her wins, she was doubted by many racing pundits. After all, they pointed out, she's won largely at her synthetic home track in California against other horses -- male and female -- who did not belong in her talent pool. They suggested that The Classic race on the dirt track against a deep, talented field would expose her weakness. But, their doubts were muffled by the love and admiration of million of Zenyatta fans who wanted to see the fabulous filly beat the boys one more time. And Zenyatta's perfect record was not the only goal; at stake was the Horse of the Year title. If Zenyatta pulled off this feat, she would surely earn many votes.
The Only Filly
The Breeders' Cup is a two-day event which draws top-notch American and European horses. The Saturday's Cup events saw a sunny, slightly chilly day. Over 17,000 equestrian fans, some bundled in fleece and Levis and Buds, others outfitted in fur and Versace and Chardonnay, packed the bleachers, stands and clubhouses to partake of the spectacle.
There were eleven races on the card with the final race, the $5 Million Classic, scheduled to start after 5pm under the track lights. The track record for this 1-1/4 mile race is 1:59.40 and is held by mega superstar, Secretariat.
Six year old, Zenyatta was the only female in a field of 12 horses which included Preakness winner and (2nd) place horses Lookin at Lucky and First Dude and a Japanese mile specialist, Espoir City. FIve year old, Blame was another strong contender. He had an impressive record out of 12 races (8-2-2) or eight wins, two second place and two third place finishes.He's won three times at the Churchill track. And, he shared Zenyatta's come from behind racing style.
Zenyatta went off as the betting favorite, despite being panned by some of the handicapper's who forecast a shutout for the filly. They attributed their accessment to her lack of experience on a dirt track and the depth of the field she was racing. Zenyatta was known for staying at the rear of the race and then using her powerful kick to close and win. That style, her detractors noted, works best on synthetic tracks, not dirt.
However, her fans, many of whom proudly displayed Zenyatta posters and Zenyatta ball caps, would have none of that. They cheered when she was announced during the pre-race horse parade and roared when the track monitor showed her playfully striking the ground with her hoove. "Look at her, she's ready to run," said one fan who was almost drowned out by the cheers.
As the bell sounded and the horses sprang from the starting gates, there was Zenyatta, kicking up clods of dirt at the rear of the pack. And as the pack continued to sprint, she appeared to be outdistanced quickly -- some 15 lengths behind early leader, First Dude. "Oh, she's too far behind," one fan expressed what many were thinking, including veteran jockey Mike Smith who was urging Zenyatta to pick up the pace.
Zenyatta was getting pelted by dirt clods as she plowed through the track and she may have been distracted by the hits. But, she was still Zenyatta and she was not out of it yet. She caught up with the pack and, after Smith guided her through a momentary horse traffic jam, she shifted gears.
"There she goes, there she goes," screamed the former doubter as Zenyatta tore up the track passing other horses with her unbelievable kick. One by one the other horses fell by the wayside until only her rival -- and now race front runner -- Blame remained. Zenyatta dug desperately, driving to catch him before the finish line ended the race . . . and her career.
The crowd and track announcer were screaming as the dueling horses thundered across the finish line. Every head turned to look at the track display of the race ending. But the track monitor held a picture few in the crowd wanted to see -- it was Blame by a nose. The track announcer succinctly summed up the race. "Zenyatta ran her heart out, but had to settle for second."
For the first time in her racing career, Zenyatta had to bypass the winning circle. Later a tearful Mike Smith would take the blame for Zenyatta's lost. "It was my fault. She's the better horse, she should have won." But Blame owner, jockey, trainer and fans, took exception to that statement. Co-owner Seth Hancock summarized, "She's a great horse, Zenyatta is. But she had her chance to get by, and she didn't do it."
Both Zenyatta and Blame are to be retired after this race. Zenyatta will be bred and Blame will provide stud services. But, undoubtedly, many thoroughbred racing fans would love to see a rematch of these two great horses. And, as for the Horse of the Year title, voting will conclude in January 2011.
Note, Lane's End Farm of Versailles, Kentucky, announced on November 16, 2010, that Zenyatta has been officially retired. Lane's End will be her new home. Plans are underway for a retirement party of sorts for her at her long-time home, Hollywood Park.
Update -- January 18, 2011
Zenyatta has won another race. The six-year-old mare won the Eclipse Award as Horse of the Year on January 17, 2011. USA Today reports in their January 18, 2011 article, "Zenyatta Caps 19-1 Career with Style," that Zenyatta has earned $7.3 million for owners Jerry and Ann Moss during her racing career. "She's one in a million," Mr. Moss said upon receiving the award. "We are just so thrilled for her."
Other winners included Uncle Mo, winner of the Breeder's Cup Juvenile race. USA Today reports Uncle Mo received 236 of 238 votes cast. Expect to see Uncle Mo in the 2011 Kentucky Derby. Awesome Feather, a two year old filly, sold for $2.3 million and Lookin at Lucky won the award for the 3-year old division.
Zenyatta is now a Mom!
Zenyatta has given birth to her first foal, a colt. She was bred to champion, Bernadini and gave birth to the 130 pound male on March 10, 2012. This leggy, dark bay colt will be closely watched by horse racing fans as he matures and starts to race in about two years.