I am a late adopter. I don’t buy new appliances until the old ones stop working; I was nearly the last of my friends to have a cell phone. When something new comes along, my attitude generally is, “But I don’t need that.” Until, months or years later, I decide that I do, and I wondered how I lived without it.
I adopted Zenyatta late. She was far away, racing on a circuit to which I didn’t pay much attention and that I don’t get to see much here in New York (no TVG or HRTV available). I knew that she was adored and I’d heard about her greatness, but I didn’t, I reckoned, really need Zenyatta in my racing world.
And then Rachel Alexandra came along, and all of a sudden, Zenyatta was even more important, even bigger, even better than she was when she reigned alone. We understand Hamlet better because we have Laertes; Blanche DuBois elicits our sympathy—and frustration—because we see her in contrast to Stanley Kowalski. With one-loss, dirt-lovin’, male-beatin’ Rachel in the picture, we looked admiringly and askance at Zenyatta’s unbeaten streak, her affinity for synthetics, her wins in sex-restricted races.
So last summer, when we were in Saratoga and Rachel was the center of the racing world, I finally watched Zenyatta. It was the Clement Hirsch on August 9th, her 12th start…and I got it. I got the personality, I got the anxiety of watching her lope along at the back of the pack, I got the whole “Slow Cheetah,” here I come, yeah, I’m in trouble, there I go thing.
In Lexington in October, my dinner plans were scheduled to accommodate watching Zenyatta in the Lady’s Secret. And in November, when I didn’t really think that she’d win the Breeders’ Cup Classic, I watched at Aqueduct with hundreds of people who were all doing what I was doing: standing in awe, shouting in excitement, exulting in seeing history made, and so magnificently.
By this point Mama Backstretch had become an adopter, too, and when I was on my way home on the weekend of the Santa Margarita and the New Orleans Ladies, she called me as I drove north. “Is it OK if we make dinner reservations early so that we’re at the restaurant when the races go off?” Of course. Of course. What else would we do?
We are used to horses breaking our hearts; at some point, nearly all of them let us down. Personal Ensign didn’t, and we remember her this week, and her unbeaten streak, and her Breeders’ Cup victory, perhaps the most memorable of all BC races. A day after Personal Ensign died, Zenyatta came to the track and did what she always does, this time on dirt, again: she amused us and she entertained us; she thrilled us and she awed us, even though she made this one look like maybe it wasn’t such a big deal, just a romp around the track.
So we get to go on, undisappointed, for at least a little while longer. I’ve had eight months, and I envy those on board from the beginning, those who’ve been watching since November 22, 2007. They adopted early; I adopted late. But…better late than never.