Zenyatta is one of the great mares in racing history. Her owners, Jerry and Ann Moss, planned to retire the six-year-old after the Breeder’s Cup Classic in Louisville, Kentucky on November 7, 2010. Instead of retiring with an outstanding record of twenty wins, which would have been the best of any American horse in the history of Thoroughbred racing, she lost her last important race by a head to a horse named “Blame.”
More than her one loss, Zenyatta’s record of nineteen wins out of twenty starts should be her lasting tribute.
The Zenyatta Step
Crowds lined the area where the 17.2 hand Zenyatta, like a Hollywood starlet walked to the paddock to be saddled. People yelled and cheered their encouragement while her handlers tried to shush the noise, hoping to lessen the pressure on her.
She showed her nervous anticipation in her characteristic walk, lifting her right front foot, and sometimes her left, in a dressage-like extension, as if pawing the air. The announcer called it a dance movement. Maybe they will name it the “Zenyatta Step.”
“We urged her forward”
We all watched as horse number eight entered the loading gate without problem and stood waiting. She came out more slowly than we hoped for and followed the pack of eleven other horses for way too long. We urged her forward, willing her to find her way to the front! And then she came, fighting to get through the bunched pack for space where she could move out.
She gave it everything she had, and she lost by a head. We all felt that moment of heartbreak for her, for her Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, her trainer John Shirreffs, her owners, her dedicated fans at her home track of Hollywood Park and for all those others who had grown to admire this fantastic mare. Did we expect her to be invincible?
Zenyatta Gave Her All
Zenyatta came up from dead last to almost win. As the sunset cast a rosy glow over Churchill Downs, she was led back to the barn for the first time without her moment of glory in the winner’s circle—while Mike Smith, her jockey, fought to control his emotions over perhaps his greatest loss. Her trainer, John Shirreffs, walked back with his head down, hands in his pockets. Her owners seemed stunned.
Didn’t we expect her to come up from behind once again as she had done so many times before with her thrilling power and heart to win, crossing the finish line with her usual last-minute triumph? Things happen. If anything, blame the dirt thrown in her face from the flying feet in front of her. She was used to the synthetic track at Hollywood Park. But in spite of the dirt and the late start, she gave it her all, as most mares do.
The Heart of a Winner
Speaking for women in general, many of us know something about the pressure to win in a male-dominated sport. Zenyatta definitely had the heart of a winner and we will remember her valiant try.
After winning the hearts of countless fans, she retired to her new home in Kentucky, grazing comfortably amongst the brood mare band at Lane’s End Farm. May her babies continue her legacy!