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Sunday, November 07, 2010


We had guests over on Saturday evening. All non-racing fans, at least beyond the Kentucky Derby and an occasional day with us at Saratoga (and even one amongst that group expressed surprise that two of this year's Triple Crown races would be run at Churchill Downs). However, I didn't have to tell any of them who Zenyatta was, nor explain that much was at stake.

And, of course, I didn't have to explain the rules of the game, or how horse racing works or anything. It might seem complicated to us, with our Beyers and Moss figures and Sheets and bounces and trips and traps and pace and track bias and sires and dams and workouts and trainer patterns and class drops and so on, and so forth. But to the other 99% of the population, races, whether between horses, humans, dogs, turtles, or whom-or-whatever, are the simplest game in the world. They're off. And, as I've often argued in almost six years of blogging, watching races is nothing less than a human instinct. We stop and watch when kids race down a block, scream our heads off with nothing at stake at a silly animated race on a scoreboard at baseball games. And horse racing, specifically, is part of the American language, and is inexorably ingrained in our culture. (When's the last time that you saw a movie about video lottery terminals?) Enough so that I believe that whatever lies ahead in an assuredly uncertain future, horse racing will always attract enough participants to survive as a viable industry, if only as an occasionally newsworthy sports attraction.

So, other than assuring our guests not to worry when Zenyatta was so very far back at the beginning (and at the same time trying to convince myself of the same), nothing else needed to be said. When Mike Smith, after losing precious time and ground after finding the shortest paths home blocked off, finally set his mare down for her fateful drive towards history, the screaming and shouting and pleading and imploring began. It raised to a desperate crescendo, before crashing to a crestfallen "OH!" when she fell just short. I have no illusions that any of them will be calling me any time soon to ask me to take them to Aqueduct, or to explain how to bet a Pick Four. But I know that they will always vividly remember the dramatic race that we witnessed, recall the courageous mare with heartfelt adoration, and promptly forget the name of the horse who won.

They're lucky in that they won't concern themselves with pondering and debating over how to factor her loss into her legacy, and how she should, or shouldn't, rank with the great horses who have graced the sport in the past. Surely, there have been horses who actually enhanced their legends in defeat. In the case of Zenyatta, the localized nature of her campaign and the questions about the surfaces over which she raced left her with something to prove. So I don't know that her defeat to a very solid, but not great, racehorse in Blame can be said to not have damaged her legacy at all. However, as Randy Moss stated in his eloquent colloquy after the race, her place in history should be diminished 'just a little bit.' And, at least in the case of a dozen people watching the race in Rego Park, Queens, including myself, surely not at all.


head chef said...

Wow, very nicely put Mr. Mann. I think we will never forget that amazing and dramatic race. If she had won it would have been cool but easily forgotten. This was a dramatic and very moving conclusion to an amazing racing career. Come check out my post tomorrow to see what we had for dinner after the race was run:

DiscreetPicks said...

As i told many people before the race, my main concern was not the dirt or whether she was good enough to beat top-class males (we're still debating that after last year?), it was just the bulky field and the fact that she was going to be coming from way out of it. Hence, traffic problems. I was convinced before the rcae that she was hgead-and-shoulders the best horse in the race, and i still feel that way. Unfortunately, her running style lends itself to these types of problems. If she had gotten a better trip, she wins. I don't think there's any question about that. In any case, Long Live The Queen.

Cookie Jill said...

I was worried that Zenyatta was being pulled up as she was so far back. Man o'War had Upset. Zenyatta had Blame. Doesn't deminish her legacy, I think in time it will only solidify it. Many thought Seattle Slew as so-so until his game 2nd place to Exceller in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Zenyatta for Horse of the Year.
Hooves down.

Anonymous said...

I didn't know you knew how to play a pick 4 Alan. Can you give me one of your seminars.

Anonymous said...

hey Dpicks its time u took up some spelling classes.

rcae hgead

LOL give me break ehh.... u must be from the west coast.

Teresa said...

I think that her legacy is enhanced not by the loss, but by the performance. She answered all the questions about her ability to run on dirt, to run in big fields, to beat good horse. She did all of that, and she got beat by less than a head (despite the official chart) by a pretty good horse. Any critics she had should be silenced: she answered those questions, and then some.

El Angelo said...

Alan, my big disagreement with you is dismissing Blame as "decent." Blame won three G1's this year, beat every horse of note, was 9 for 13 in his career, and won at 5 different tracks. He's not an all-time great, but if they kept him running as a 5-year old (which they're not, sadly), I think we'd have a different view of his career. He's quite, quite good.

I don't see how you can make Zenyatta HOTY. Blame beat her fair and square. That said, to me, she answered all questions in losing and is in fact, an all time great. It's just amazing she never had trouble like she did yesterday before her 20th race.

ballyfager said...


This is your best post that i've ever seen.

Zenyatta without tears - she is probably not as good a horse on dirt but she has nothing to be ashamed of and she will certainly be HOY.

alan said...

El Ang...I called him "very solid," not "decent." And I would stand by that assessment. Agreed that it's too bad that he will be retired. Biggest reason why this sport will never be more than a blip on the screen (when the college football game doesn't go OT and it's on the screen at all!)

Anonymous said...

Zenyatta had trouble with just a "very solid," horse and I hear people say how great she Is.

Remember It's all about media hype.

This Is why they kept her in so cal.

She's a very good Mare who would have had a few loses if they shopped her around.

I'd take Rags to Riches against her in the Belmont,after all I think most would say Curlin is better than Blame.

Carol said...

What's amazing to me is that over a career spanning three years, the mare showed up every time, always performing at the highest level and never throwing in a clunker or faltering in any way. Shirreffs deserves an unbelievable amount of credit. As far as Z's legacy, when people watch clips of her races, no one is going to care where she's running, what she's running on, or who she's beating (or not). They're just gonna wonder how in the hell she managed to win all those races when she looks beat every single time.

I don't care if she wins HOY. She was kind of rooked the last 2 years, why even bother to give it to her now? And in truth I don't think her conservative campaign this year really earned it. Why not just remember her 21st Century Horse from Another Planet and leave it at that? She was awesome.

Oh, and Anonymous 3:24, you need an apostrophe there in "it's." Or is that an East Coast idiom? :)

Anonymous said...

Carol " ITS " an East Coast idiom correct :)

BTW: can u help me out and explain to me the meaning of "rcae" and "hgead"

have a good week

Anonymous said...

Carol said....

Shirreffs deserves an unbelievable amount of credit.

I don't think her(z) conservative campaign this year really earned it.(HOY)

I don't care if she wins HOY.

Some how I don't believe you.

Carol said...

Anon: I'm pretty sure "hgead" means "fucking awesome West Coast racemare" in some obscure Serbo-Croatian dialect. You've stumped me on "rcae," however. ;)

(I apologize. I'm an editor. Sometimes we just can't help ourselves.)

Carol said...

Other Anon: As far as HOY goes, well, no, I really don't think she earned it. We were sort of promised a more ambitious campaign this year (take her around the country and all), and we didn't get it. You have to live and die by your plan: this year for Z everything revolved around the BC and she didn't win it, no matter what anyone says about the circumstances. So that's it as far as HOY is concerned. (I've actually really liked Blame all year, very solid.)

What does HOY mean anyway? There are no meaningful criteria in place to determine who gets it. I still think Zenyatta is One of the Ones (due to overall record, crazy high-risk running style, conformation, general sense of unknown limitations). In an 8-horse field (yes, even on dirt) I'd bet the paycheck on her against anyone. The good thing about "Best of" type things is that it's fairly subjective: you get to believe what you want. That's the fun of it. :)

Figless said...

bally, I beg to differ, she's just as good on dirt, yesterday proved that point once and for all.

agree with others Blame won HOY fair and square, on the track where it should be settled.

alan said...

>>Zenyatta had trouble with just a "very solid," horse and I hear people say how great she Is.

Sometimes great horses just get beat due to circumstances, and I think that was the case here. I don't think she had "trouble" with Blame as much as she didn't get the breaks that a horse who closes from that far back needs to get against good competition. Secretariat lost to Onion and Prove Out, but he is still considered great - do you think that either of them were as good as Blame?

steve in nc said...

In these evaluations, bear in mind the state of the sport. People disparage horses or minimize acheivements because "who did he or she beat?" We can't do that anymore because horses (other than Zenyatta) don't race enough and stay racing long enough to ever become a "somebody" that you can consider worthy competition for a great horse.

Blame wasn't perfect, but in his last 4 races, he won three grade I routes (and closed for second to a frontrunner who led in 1:13:4 in the race he lost). And if you look at the only other race he lost routing, he also closed for second against a really really slow pace.

So while I love the rest of the essay, "very solid" doesn't cut it for me. I didn't like Blame going into the race, but my hat's off now. He's won 8 of his last 10 against top company with good excuses when he lost.

For all we know, if they keep him racing, he may never lose again. But I don't think we need to wait for that to say Zen lost to a tremendous horse and that she is truly one for the ages.

She proved it at 10 furlongs, on dirt and poly against anybody that entered over and over and over again.

Like Teresa says, her critics should be silenced, but here comes someone yet again with the same tired old critique of her campaign.

The days of Seabiscuit are gone. Zenyatta never had the opportunity to beat Rags to Riches or Curlin, or Secretariat or Exterminator for that matter. Their chicken trainers kept ducking her.

So Zenyatta had to settle for establishing a record almost unblemished against her contemporaries of both genders for three years, missing perfection by a foot or so. To fail to appreciate that is to view Michael Jordan as a guy who couldn't hit a curveball.

Anonymous said...

First, I have to salute the quality of your writing in Sunday's post. Just superb.
I am still showing other journalists and would-be journalists your lead from the Barron's article. As good as I have ever seen -- and I've seen a lot of magazine writing.

When Secretariat was necropsied, I believe his heart was like twice the size of a normal thoroughbred. Is this going to be true of Zenyatta as well? How much of this success is the result of physiology? (Not a popular premise, I guess, but just asking). I take nothing away from her achievements and her competitive spirit but maybe she's a heavyweight beating up on middleweights.

First time I was ever sorry I didn't do some show betting. All that handicapping and my longshots ended up as thirds. Nothing wrong with a $7 show payoff.

Anonymous said...

This was the most dramatic race I have seen in my life (been a fan since '87), and it probably will go down as the most dramatic race by the time I'm done. This was much bigger than Real Quiet's failed triple crown bid because we might see another triple crown winner, but we will NEVER see a horse go 20 for 20 in our lifetime.

Mixed emotions here, as I think the average sports fan got to witness just how great this sport can be, but to be fair she did lose, and perfection was not achieved (while greatness had already been achieved before Saturday and was once again validated on the biggest stage).

If you can't see the greatness of this mare, then I pity you. It's really that simple. I will laugh condescendingly at the people who seek to downplay or belittle her accomplishments over the coming days and months, and simply dismiss them as the braindead fucking idiots that they are. Thanks to Zenyatta and her sporting connections for a ride we will never forget. Long live The Queen indeed. -jp

Anonymous said...

Alan, EA. Shoot me an email sdc4130@ hotmail .com
so I can get you paid. I'm still a little in shock.


Anonymous said...

Zenyatta's legacy will be remembered and discussed for sometime. But no longer than that of Secretariat, Kelso, Cigar, John Henry, or any other great campaigner of yore.

There is always the next super horse ready to command our attention...that is what is great about racing. Zenyatta's loss, it should be pointed out, as Alan pointed out, was to an impressive, NY-based Grade I campaigner in Blame.

And it was a NY-based horse who finally beat the great mare. Too bad Z's connections didn't ship east this past summer to run in the Whitney Handicap. A win by Zenyatta in the Whitney surely would have impressed us NY-centric racing fans and moved her up another notch. The loss at CD would have been somewhat mitigated by the win in NY.

It was a nice ride while it lasted and we won't soon forget Zenyatta. However, her connections, by not shipping to NY, did not quite dare to be great. /S/greenmtnpunter