Zenyatta: Decisions, decisions?

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.

13 thoughts on “Zenyatta: Decisions, decisions?

  1. As usual, Teresa, a well-considered piece. And I know you’ll do what you think is right with your vote — which really is Job 1.

    If Zenyatta wins, it would be hard to fathom voting for anyone else. (And mind-boggling if there are more than a few sticks-in-the-mud remain among those who aren’t willing to consider her among “the best ever.”)

    If she loses, it sort of depends *how* she loses, and to whom. She still might be Horse of the Year. Or might not.

    I think what happens at Churchill *does* matter. Even though there are those who don’t.

  2. If Zenyatta loses the Breeders Cup Classic, she does not deserve to be Horse of the Year. Her connections have chosen to run her against the weakest of fields on her preferred synthetic surface. She has not beaten a single Grade 1 winner all year. And now, they’re claiming she’s a better horse on the dirt, except they chose not tohave her face stiffer competition there before. It makes me laugh. The situation reminds me a lot of the New England Patriots 2 years ago. Everyone knows what happened there.

  3. Not sure if my win bet will be on her come the Classic, but I can tell you this – My heart will be behind her 100%. I want her to win and I want the book to be written and the movie to be made. I will be blessed to see in her in person one last time and I thank her and her owners for bringing interest back to horse racing to the casual fan. In the long run, what people will remember is the thrill they got watching her run from behind and the exhilaration of seeing her find that finish line just in the nick of time. No horse of the year honors can ever replace that feeling, – that rush. The Eclipse honors matter only to the horse cognoscenti, not the public. Long live the Queen!

  4. Zenyatta’s amazing, but I find Trevor Denman’s gushing stretch calls a little over the top. He’s getting dangerously close to John Sterling territory. And I like Trevor.

  5. Thanks, everyone, for reading and for the comments. Matt, I think that my feelings are most closely aligned with yours. We have been incredibly fortunate over the last three years.

    DJLoo: there has been little more spurious than Denman’s call of the ’09 Classic. Like where else would Zenyatta be, except at the back of the pack?

    August: Definitely not ready to go there. While I’d have liked to see a more varied campaign, a lot of good horses have been beaten in short fields, against lesser company. Somehow, she’s managed to make it every time.

    Glenn: Let’s hope she makes it easy for us and wins. =)

  6. Nice writing, thank you. I believe Zenyatta will run her race. Imagine the race and see Zenyatta five wide at the top of the stretch going after horses that have some juice. I have her in the super and maybe in the triple. I will be rooting for her with a saver ticket. If she loses, I am ‘Blaming’ it on the other horse. Good luck and thanks again for the nice writing.

  7. I feel sorry for the horse that wins the BCC if it’s not Zenyatta, because everybody is going to be mad and disappointed except the winners’ connections. Personally, unless big Z has a terrible trip, I think she’s going to retire 20-0. That being said, anything can happen in horse racing.

  8. One thing for sure, if a top tier horse who has paid his dues like Quality Road or Blame beats her fair and square and doesn’t get HoY, it’d be an impossible decision to justify on any rational grounds.

    Still, it’d probably be safer for the voters to let her have it anyway to avoid the firestorm that will sure follow if she doesn’t win it for the third year in a row.

  9. In my opinion Zenyatta should have been Horse Of The Year not only in 2009 (over a very talented Rachel) but even more so in 2008…!! That’s the year where she ended her perfect campaign with a dominating performance in the Breeder’s Cup Ladies Classic while eventual H.O.Y. Curlin was spitting out the bit at the 1/4 pole of the BC Classic the following day…She wuz robbed…
    Same as last year..Sure Rachel had a nice campaign but was beating up on “allowance males” in the Woodward, etc…Macho Again..?? Gimmie a break, PLUS she was getting big time weight from those pigs, that race was a farce..
    All of the Zenyatta naysayers (mostly East Coast biased fools) who downplay her accomplishments have obviously never seen this dynamic gal race in person..I live on the West Coast and have had the good fortune of seeing Zenyatta race “live” about 7 or 8 times at Hollywood, Del Mar and of course her BC Classic win at Santa Anita a year ago this week and she is something to behold…
    I’m looking forward to Saturday’s Classic at Churchill…I’ve been going to the track for some 40 years (since I was about 5 years old) and win or lose, she’ll go down as my all time favorite…I’m not saying “best horse ever” because that’s an arguement with no end..I’m just saying MY fave of all time…!! Thanks Ann & Jerry Moss, John Sheriffs annd Mike Smith for over 3 years of thrills..!! And most of all, thanks Zenyatta, you really are the Queen..!!

  10. P.S. I’m a HUGE Trevor Denman fan and in regards to Trevor’s call of last year’s BC Classic, sure it may have seemed a bit “over the top” but so was Zenyatta’s performance, so no harm no foul there..I think Trevor was as surprised that she overcame what she did to win and was just expressing his thoughts…Truly un-believe-ab-le..!!
    And this Saturday the horse she has to beat is Looking At Lucky..I don’t think Blame is good enough and Quality Road..?? I’d like to book all win bets on him…IF he decides to load into the gate this year, he’ll be moonwalking after a mile…That’s as far as he can go…Zenyatta/Lucky exacta box…!! Good Luck…!!

  11. Karen: great point. It’ll be like Smarty Jones’s Belmont, when Edgar Prado, on Birdstone, apologized to Smarty Jones’s connections.

    TVNews: While I think that there will be an outcry if she’s not HOTY, I think that the voters are thick-skinned enough to handle it.

    Marty: I’ve never quite understood that thinking that Rachel Alexandra’s historic 2009 campaign was better than Zenyatta’s somehow represents a bias; it completely dismisses Rachel Alexandra’s extraordinary accomplishments.

    Pigs? Really? I’ve never been particularly fond of that nickname for horses.

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