Zenyatta: A Perfect Moment
Posted by Brian Appleton on November 8, 2009
How do you begin to describe perfection? That one moment that leaves you speechless, where no words seems able to describe what’s happened, when reality slips beyond one’s perception and dreams become reality. Zenyatta is the realization of a dream, the perfect athlete. She possesses the speed, stamina, courage, power and heart to win any race in any situation, but more than that, she has created an emotional bond between fans of the sport that goes far deeper than a desire to observe exciting races. She has created a gigantic following of devoted fans around the world, who have a passionate love for the sport itself, and the heroes who sacrifice so much to keep it alive.
Zenyatta became the first female in history to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday and extended her unbeaten skein of races to 14, surpassing Personal Ensign’s modern day record of 13 in-a-row. The Breeders’ Cup Classic capped off a fabulous day of racing, which included seven other Championship Breeders’ Cup races.
A crowd of more the 58,000 was on hand to see Zenyatta face off against the boys and the anticipation in the air was electric. Showing her customary dance and prance all the way around the paddock, through the tunnel and during the post parade, Zenyatta looked the part of a champion. Mine that Bird with Calvin Borel aboard led the post parade with a gorgeous looking Summer Bird two back as the number 3 horse. The towering Zenyatta came next with European Twice Over right behind, his coat a glistening sheen. Gio Ponti and Einstein came one behind the other in positions 7 and 8 with second race favorite Rip Van Winkle as the number 10 horse. The striking European colt appeared to be thriving and his foot issues looked to be behind him. Cheers rippled the length of the grandstand as the fans followed Zenyatta’s progress to the gate, and her appointment with destiny. Zenyatta was stubborn loading into the gate, but with the help of the assistant starters, she loaded in short time and the rest of the field began to load. Quality Road had other plans however. He was eventually scratched after a heart pounding episode in which he refused to load multiple times, kicking his hind legs high in the air until blindfolded and led in, at which time he began bucking ferociously before bolting from the gate. Fortunately a starter was able to keep a hold on him and he was led off the track. The horses were unloaded, with Zenyatta appearing slightly agitated. They quickly got them loaded back in the gate, and the race was underway.
Zenyatta broke very slowly and by the time they crossed the finish line for the first time she was approximately 10 lengths from pacesetting Regal Ransom. She appeared uncomfortable for the first couple hundred yards and was running on the wrong lead, tossing her head. Around the first turn jockey Mike Smith moved her ahead of Mine that Bird and kept her second to last down the backstretch. Einstein sat in just behind the leader with Rip Van Winkle directly behind in third. Around the far turn the field began to accelerate. Summer Bird shot through an opening, gunning for the lead, with Gio Ponti moving up the rail from the middle of the pack. Zenyatta was still second to last coming into the stretch and it appeared she was on her way to the first defeat of her career. Race caller Trevor Denman said it best: “Zenyatta has a lot, A LOT of work to do. If she wins this one, she will truly be a super filly.” Down the stretch Zenyatta reached the middle of the pack but was blocked by a wall of horses from making a straight run. Meanwhile Gio Ponti seized the lead and began inching from the group as Summer Bird began to separate from the rest and Twice Over closed from the outside. Mike Smith swung Zenyatta widest of all to give her a clear path and the champion responded as if she had been waiting for just this moment to move. As soon as she saw daylight, the race was over. A few taps of the whip, an impossible acceleration and Zenyatta burst to the lead, winning by one length over Gio Ponti and Twice Over with Summer Bird coming home fourth. The crowd went wild, deafening roars of delight, cheers and screams of victory rippled in Zenyatta’s wake. In the owner’s box, Jerry and Ann Moss were in tears, stunned by the amazing achievement they had just witnessed by their beloved mare. Jockey Mike Smith proclaimed Zenyatta Horse of the Decade when asked if she was Horse of the Year and said she has to be considered one of the greatest of all time now.
The reception she received when returning from the backstretch to approach the winners circle was unlike anything I have ever seen or heard in the sport before. As the undisputed “Queen of racing” pranced up and down before the grandstands, the fans went crazy. Zenyatta signs waved wildly above the crowd, the entire audience on their feet, applauding ecstatically, holding back no emotion in their appreciation of the flawless performance they had witnessed. You can’t rightly put it into words, the emotion we all felt for her as we reveled in the sheer wonder of her achievement. To make perfection look so easy was breathtaking, and comes along only once every few lifetimes. This was beyond a doubt the greatest Breeders Cup performance in the history of the Classic, and perhaps the entire Breeders Cup itself. To have lived to see this happen overwhelms me beyond words.
Up until this time Rachel Alexandra has been considered a lock for Horse of the Year honors, but with this powerful performance, Zenyatta has assured the ensuing of a fierce battle for Horse of the Year. Excellent cases can be made for both these amazing females and Zenyatta will certainly steal a good deal of the votes with the Classic victory over such a stellar field. The most immediate question that everyone will be wanting answered now is, whether or not Zenyatta will race and again, and if she will compete next year.
Later I will cover the rest of the Breeders’ Cup Saturday races, but for now I felt Zenyatta’s incredible tour de force deserved a post all its own.