So when a horse by the name of Zenyatta hit the racing scene everything in me knew there had to be a connection. To the best of my knowledge "zenyatta" wasn't even a real word. I later discovered that Zenyatta's owner, music promoter Jerry Moss, is friends with Sting and named the filly after the album Zenyatta Mondatta. See, I knew it!!
Reportedly, there is a Mondatta who never made it to the track. We might have to look into that!
Zenyatta was purchased at the Keeneland Sale but did not race as a two year old. In an interview on 60 Minutes her trainer, John Shirreffs, was asked why they didn't run her in the Derby and his reply was that she simply was not mature enough yet....
That is a statement that could be worth Zenyatta's weight in gold!
Seriously, I'd like to post it in every racing barn and at every track in the United States. This is the biggest source of contention between racing and rescue: that young horses are put on to the track well before they are physically mature and too often this results in injuries to their immature legs. The horse is used up and tossed aside for the next best prospect before it ever had a chance to prove how truly athletic it could have been. Now I hope that my racing friends know that I am not pointing fingers at them as I could only be associated with folks who I feel do try to do the right thing by their horses. It's that delicate line I dance between my life-long love of racing and the passion I feel for horse rescue.
Many in the equine community ask why is it that in every other equine sport we hold off til after 3 years to start a horse consistently and even longer before developing a horse for a more demanding discipline, yet racing starts them at two...which are sometimes a bit less than two due to the January 1st "official" age date. I totally get that the younger horse is going to have more energy...boy do I ever get that from a human aspect these days, but I have always wondered what it would hurt to let the horses wait just a year longer... let those joints fill in, let the horse's skeleton finish getting to where it's going. THEN let's see what kind of magic can happen on the track.
Look what happened with a little more time to develop...
In both this 60 minutes piece and a fascinating article in Sports Illustrated, Shirreffs talks about how beautifully she matured in that extra year she had off.
"Her legs weren't ready to take care of that body," says Shirreffs. "...if you compromise a horse when she's young, you'll never see her full talents." according to the Sports Illustrated article.
They go on further to discribe her better than I've ever seen...
"Now they have not just any horse, but a transcendent one. "She has a deep heart girth," says Shirreffs, "which indicates plenty of room for lung in her rib cage. But her chest isn't broad, which would inhibit her stride by putting her forelegs farther apart. Behind, she's very strong, when often a horse of her [height] would be narrow in back. The combination, her front and her back, it's amazing. And her heart, who knows how big her heart is. Whatever it is physically, it's huge metaphysically." Zenyatta is also uncommonly sweet at rest; Shirreffs allows fans to visit her almost without restriction."
The Zen-Mistress now has a perfect record: 19 wins in 19 races.
Today is #20 and reportedly her last...her retirement race... I assume she'll go on to be a broodmare and hopefully pass on her good genes to her offspring. Monica, Maeve & I were just talking about the X-Factor that says that the strongest genes come through the X chromosome (the female) and now I am fascinated at the possibilities of this amazing mare going on to produce more of her own kind. This is one of those rare instances where I do have to support the idea of breeding her. I think she's worth repeating...or at least trying to, right? She won't be producing 100's more, just a select few...and who will the studs be? I can't think of anyone worthy of her at this point but I'm sure her team, who seems to love her very much, will make the best choices possible. They can certainly afford to be very selective! Shoot, I think if I had a top stud, I'd almost PAY to have Zenyatta carry one of his foals!!!
Back in May I went out to the California Equine Retirement Foundation (CERF) and met founder, Grace Belcuore. She's also a big Zenyatta fan and shared with me her story about meeting Zenyatta. Grace asked if she could hug Zenyatta and they said "sure". As she wrapped her arms around Zenyatta's chest, She bent down and hugged Grace back with her head. I later hugged Grace to get my second generation Zenyatta hug...ok, mostly it was because I was so in awe of the work Grace does to care for Off-the-track Thoroughbreds but the arms that hugged Zenyatta have hugged me ...and that's a pretty cool bonus!
So I'm sitting here in a hotel room in Miami after a long day of traveling to get to Florida for a cruise we're about to take. There have been many discussions about trying to do a lay-over in Louisville on the way but the flights were just not working out otherwise Les & I would have been all over this Breeders Cup. I think we both know this is a very special one, in deed. But because we fly standby, we sometimes don't even get our second choice of flights and were bumped from a flight Thursday night which would have gotten us into Miami at 7am Friday Morning. Our perfect plan (based on not being able to go to Louisville) was to drive down to Key West on Friday and spend the day/evening with a large number of our friends who are down there for Meeting of the Minds, a Parrot Head convention of sorts (back to Buffett!) and then come back up Saturday to catch live racing at Calder so we could make sure to see the Breeders Cup Sprint with our local hero, Atta Boy Roy (or as we renamed him Derby Day, Atta Good Boy Roy) & the beautiful Zenyatta in the Breeders Cup Classic. When Friday Fun was scrubbed because we had to fly to Orlando and drive to Miami, I assumed he'd want to drive to Key West today instead, but I am very proud to say that he didn't even consider it. He's the one who said, "It's too bad, but no Key West this time!" HE wants to go to the track as much as I do!
On the 5 hour plane ride I tried to amuse myself by doing crosswords puzzles, but when the puzzle asks for an 8-letter word...I thought "Zenyatta" and I would drift off thinking about the race and this incredible horse...so I induldged myself a little bit and thought of words that belong with her...
My friend Kathleen is there RIGHT NOW (ok, maybe she's sleeping "right now") but if she's anything like me she's laying there imagining Zenyatta on the track in all of her glory with her garland, trophy and the clicks of a gazillion camera's going off...I'll text her in the morning in an effort to sneak into her moment just a second or two...and there will be phone calls & all of the excitement amongst my friends who want this win for her with our huge collective heart.
So Zenyatta, show 'em how to run like a girl...a great big beautiful, strong, amazing girl!!! (I think I may have borrowed that from Bonnie...if not, it sounds like something she'd say!)
I love a line I read recently that you've never gone anywhere but to the winners circle after you run the track...so I wish you one last happy trip there and that in the months to come you understand that it's a wonderful gift that you've been retired to be a horse. I hope you always feel loved. No matter the outcome, you're one of a kind and you inspire us.
...and above all else....have a safe trip around Churchill Downs....see you in the winner's circle!
Go Zenyatta Go!!
Edit update: 11/16/10
This all took place just before I left on a cruise through the Caribbean and I didn't have (much) Internet access but I did want to update that Les & I went to Calder Race Track and watched the Breeders Cup races from there on Saturday. Bonnie & I were texting each other and we did get an ESPN feed so we did get to *see* the coverage but didn't get to *hear* the non-track coverage.
Needless to say I was heartbroken about the way the day started: in the Juvenile Turf, Rough Sailing broke down around the first turn and was euthanized after sustaining a fracture of the humerus bone in his right forelimb & then our Home-Boy Atta Boy Roy had to be hauled off the track and off the heels of the Rough Sailing loss, we were very concerned for the Washington Home-town Hero. It, according to the Seattle PI, "... was initially diagnosed as a suspensory injury in his right foreleg. However, chief Breeders’ Cup veterinarian Wayne McIllwraith said Atta Boy Roy was in no apparent danger.
“Calvin Borel noticed a bit of sensitivity in the right forelimb and jumped off the horse," McIlwraith said. "He has a mild injury to a medial branch suspensory ligament. It is certainly not life-threatening, and probably not career-threatening.”
All of this made for an even more stressful Breeders Cup Classic race, praying that Zenyatta would make a safe trip no matter the outcome. I was a bundle of nerves, especially after it looked like she might have had a bad start and seemed to be running "off" but then she settled in....far behind the pack...and made her move toward the end. Her Jockey, Mike Smith, placed her up in the pack and had to work her way out so that she could come on the outside to run for the wire. In the end it was probably the manuvering that cost her but she lost the race to "Blame" by mere inches. She gave it an amazing GO at the end and she probably really only needed a stride or two more to have won but she did it in amazing style. Mike Smith later accepted the blame for her loss but said she ranked up there with the best horses of all-time.
One of Bonnie's last texts was "she probably doesn't even know she lost"...the replay shows she kept running hard, well past the finish line & later Bonnie posted on Facebook: