Thursday, November 4, 2010

Zenyatta -- the best racehorse ever?

Oh, Zenyatta.

Horse racing always longs for a superhorse – one that can transcend the dying sport and make it relevant again. Make it big. Make it so that the movies about the sport don’t have to feature horses from 35 years ago (Secretariat) or 70 years ago (Seabiscuit).

In Zenyatta, horse racing may well have its star of the decade. But she probably needs to win one last time, on Saturday at Louisville’s storied Churchill Downs, to get her perfect ending.

Zenyatta isn’t the best racehorse ever, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. That would be Secretariat in my opinion – and I worked in Kentucky for three years, covered the Kentucky Derby a couple of times and know my way around a paddock a little.

But you could also make an argument for Man o’War, Citation, Affirmed or several others who beat better competition, won in different ways and in the mud and so on.

But Zenyatta – named for The Police’s third album, called Zenyatta Mondatta and featuring "Don't Stand So Close to Me," one of the best Police songs of all time – is special. Gentle to fans. A crowd-pleasing, pre-race dancer. A horse that loves the attention she gets. It will be heartbreaking to many who follow horse racing if she loses Saturday in the Breeders’ Cup Classic against a field of males.

Why is Zenyatta being featured in “60 Minutes” and “Sports Illustrated” and talked up by Oprah Winfrey as one of America’s most influential females? Three reasons:

1) She’s undefeated. That 19-0 record is remarkable, especially given that Zenyatta always, always comes from behind to win. You’d think just once something would have gone wrong (Secretariat lost five times in his racing career). But Zenyatta is an amazing closer, and of course that makes for more dramatic finishes than wire-to-wire wins.

2) She’s a girl. Duh. But it always makes a better story for a woman to beat a man in straight-up competition. Zenyatta has done it before; on Saturday, she tries to do the Billie Jean King thing again.

3) This is likely her swan song. Zenyatta has already “un-retired” once, after the 2009 season. But now, at age six, she’s probably near the end of her racing career. She will be in the breeding shed before long. So does she have one last great race in her? We find out Saturday at around 6:45 p.m.

I hope she does. Zenyatta isn’t the greatest racehorse of all time, but if she wins Saturday, I certainly believe she’s the best female racehorse of all time. Better than Ruffian. Better than Rachel Alexandra. And she will provide one last great headline to a great sport that sure could use one.


Anonymous said...

Racing is a dying sport, and lets hope it dies quickly, from the bottom up. For every Zenyatta, there are a hundred horses running on sore legs pushed until they break. Then they get pawned off on auctions, with owners and trainers lacking the courage to make a call on euthanasia. I got one of the slow horses that didn't make headlines. She was LUCKY and her next stop was the meat auction.
The cost is that for every Zenyatta there are 100's who can't earn their keep and not enough homes for the good ones who get retired for being slow, let alone the ones who get injured trying to be Zenyatta.
I'm not a PETA fanatic by any stretch, but I sure wish the industry would do more to help the ones that can't cut it find a new home or at least be put to rest with more dignity than a ride on shattered legs to a slaughter house over the border.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing this

Archiguy said...

I'd like someone to explain why Zenyatta never competed in the Triple Crown races. On that 60 Minutes piece, her owner said it was because "she wasn't ready". I kept waiting for the follow-up question - what the heck does THAT mean? - but it never came.

Other 3 year olds run those races (and why 3 year olds and no others is another question). Zenyatta is a great racehorse who also was once 3 years old. Surely she was physically mature enough. Why didn't she race then? I don't understand this at all and have seen no further explanation anywhere.

Anonymous said...

She didn't race at 3 because she had a history of injury, soreness, etc. early on. Also, best female ever? That's laughable. This horse has been coddled like no other. She's had 19 races and only 1 against males? Rachel Alexandra beat males 3 times when she was only 3. At that point in Zenyatta's career she was busy eating oats. You need to go back to the paddock and learn a bit more.

Anonymous said...

I hope horse racing blossoms again. We need cheap dog food.

Anonymous said...

Horse racing is a dying sport bc its marketed to old farts. If they make the tracks nice and put in casinos in all of them it will attract a younger crowd. Horse betting should be legalized in NC, it would produce a decent revenue stream for the state, but they are too religious here to do that.

Anonymous said...

Horse racing is a romantic sport. The stories of horses from the past , the beauty of their racing - that is why it is the king of sports. I agree though, the horses need to be treated better - they are Kings and Queens. All forms of doping need to stop and horses that are injured or in delicate condition need to be allowed to rest, not run despite the odds of injury. Bravo to the team behind Zenyatta who did not push her when they did not feel she was ready and let her have a wonderful legacy in her older years. Maybe Eight Bells did not die in vain.

Anonymous said...

Prepping for the 3yo races is why you see horses like Seven Belles shattering legs during races. The horses are not fully developed. My mare stopped growing at 5. There was damage done to her by training for one race. Zenyatta is running at 6 probably because she did not race at 3.

And that coddling is why she still races at 6.

Anonymous said...

Go Zenyatta, you beautiful it one more time! Ten retire to the good life.

Anonymous said...

wWell written Scott. It is amazing the buzz 60 minutes created for this horse. I heard more about Zenyatta Monday than about the Panthers or Cowboys getting beat for the 6th time. It is certainly a great story and I echo the comments stating she is racing at 6 because she was held back at 3. Go Zenyatta!

Anonymous said...

Seceretariat would probably bury this horse at a distance-i.e. the Belmont (remember 1973?). He kept getting stronger as the distances increased.

Anonymous said...

you can NOT compare her to ruffian!
you say secretariat is the best, well ruffian beat 2 of his mile records, 2 of his 1 1/8 miles and 1 of his 1 1/2 mile records, she beat all of his 6 and 7 furlong records and zenyattas records dont even COMPARE to ruffians!
zenyatta was whipped in like ALL of her races!
ruffian was only whipped in the hot n nasty race!
and she was undefeated to!

no horse won that match race sine one was unable to complete it, though she tried!
vasquez couldnt get her to stop!
she beat hot n nasty with a freshy popped splint, and all but one of her records still stand!
in every race she races she smashed and set new track and stakes records and she was NEVER pushed!

so dont even compare zenyatta to her becuase zenyatta doesnt even come CLOSE!

scgloe1 said...

Zenyatta is a stunningly beautiful and elegeant thoroughbred......but SECRETARIAT is still the definitive STAR! He is still loved by those of us who watched him in '73 (at home, on TV!) at Belmont, capture the track record - still unbeaten! and demolish his competitors with a 31 length victory. His Trip Crown win made HISTORYand the first STAR of modern 20th Century thoroughbred hourse racing. The NATION fell in love with Secretariat in '73! Many of us still miss him.

Unknown said...

are you people that dumb? How many times was zenyatta beaten? Once! You cannot compare Rachel Alexandra to Zenyatta, thats like comparing a piece of crap to a beautiful butterfly. zenyatta is was to good. She IS the BEST racehorse of all time.