On the post about the Secretariat statue in the paddock at Belmont, a commenter wrote about Secretariat’s Triple Crown-winning season, “America needed a hero, even if it was a four legged one. We need one today as well and we have one; a female at that…Zenyatta.”
With all due respect to the other horses running at Churchill Downs next weekend, this year’s Breeders’ Cup is all about Zenyatta. The Rail at the New York Times was brought back, in the words of Joe Drape, “…because of Zenyatta, a once-in-a-generation mare — no, horse — for anyone who follows thoroughbred racing.”
It’s been a long time since I’ve wanted to see a horse win as badly as I want to see Zenyatta win the Classic this year. I wanted her to win last year, but I didn’t think that she would: I watched with hope, but without expectation. Her victory is one of the most exciting sporting moments I’ve ever witnessed, up there with Rags to Riches’ Belmont and the Rangers’ Stanley Cup in 1994.
From the Eclipse-voting sidelines, I supported those who called for an option to vote both Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra Horse of the Year; both horses had historic years, and to vote for both was not, as some said, the equivalent of giving everyone on the middle school baseball team a trophy, unless all those kids took on all comers and thrashed them. Both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta earned that recognition.
In the absence of that option, I think that I’d have voted for Zenyatta if I’d had a vote for Horse of the Year. She won the Breeders’ Cup Classic, beating the best males of the year (admittedly not on their chosen surfaces, a not inconsequential consideration), and while I wouldn’t argue with anyone who said that Rachel Alexandra was the worthier candidate, Zenyatta’s compelling win in the Classic would likely have swayed me.
This year, the discussion isn’t theoretical: I do have a vote, and the discussions have begun. Some writers have already crowned Zenyatta Horse of the Year; others have cautioned that no decision can be made until after the Classic is run next Saturday.
If Zenyatta wins, we can vote with both head and heart: she will be an indisputably deserving Horse of the Year. If she doesn’t…some of us will have a tough decision to make.
Zenyatta has one more race, one more chance to further burnish her legacy. She doesn’t need a win or a Horse of the Year title to cement her place in history, she’s already done that. Though I will be as nervous as I’ve ever been before a race, I will try to keep this in mind: Win or lose next Saturday, the magnificence of Zenyatta can’t be diminished. It can only be enhanced.