November 6, 2010

In Defeat, Zenyatta’s Legend Grows

There are times in life when a loss is not a loss. The 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic was such a moment.

Tonight in front of legions of devoted fans, and millions of more admirers watching from home, Zenyatta accomplished as much in defeat as she had in any of her previous wins. In a thrilling display of talent and courage, she did what some doubted she could, by storming home in the 27th edition of America’s richest race, the Breeders‘ Cup Classic. As Zenyatta and her newest rival hit the wire in unison, It was Blame, an excellent four-year-old son of Arch, who desperately held the slimmest of possible margins over the fan favorite. For many in the crowd it was a devastating and heartbreaking loss for their hero. Grown men were brought to tears when it was apparent that her furious stretch run had fallen agonizingly short. Her racing partner for the past three seasons, Mike Smith fought back the emotions to say this after the race.

“I feel like I let her down. I left her too much to do. I had to put on the brakes at the quarter pole when Quality Road started backing up. I think that cost me the race. In the beginning, she struggled with the track. She didn’t like all that dirt flying at her. I needed a little better position for her early. I just know she was the best horse in the race. It was another gallant effort for her.”

Gallant to say the least, Mike. Zenyatta is no longer undefeated, but her reputation grew leaps and bounds tonight. In Blame, she faced the best horse she had ever faced. With all due respect to the Classic winner, he was simply not the best horse in the race. As someone who selected Blame to win the race, I say without a shred of doubt that Zenyatta was the best horse in the Classic. That is how good she was, she is, and she always has been.

To no one’s surprise Zenyatta fell back to the rear of the pack immediately out of the gate, but how far behind she fell, was surprising. She was 15 lengths behind after the field was four furlongs into the Classic. Any worries about seeing the real Zenyatta were short lived as the big mare began to roll. Her rally was poetry in motion, as the crowd reached fever pitch. With every ground gobbling stride she gained on the leaders rapidly, but alas on this night there would be one horse who was resolute. Blame had burst through a small opening early in the stretch and spurted clear to take a commanding lead at the eighth pole. As Zenyatta began to reel him in, Blame gave it everything he had to the wire. The crowd was aghast and stunned. Zenyatta was one stride short of catching him and winning her 20th race in a style never before seen in Breeders’ Cup Classic history.

Zenyatta is a champion through and through, even a blind man could see that. She blew away any doubts about her greatness with the cold Louisville winds with power and grace. In the end, I feel for all her connections and true fans, but I would like to pass this one thought to them … there is no reason for anyone to hang their heads about. Zenyatta is more of a champion tonight, in defeat, than she has ever been.

Photo Courtesy of Reed Palmer Photography

14 comments:

Mark Moran said...

Brian, you NAILED it. Thank you. I left her off most of my tickets. Like Beyer and so many others, I thought she was past her prime, not as good on dirt, facing a better field than ever, and would never weave her way past this many good horses. I expected her to finish 5th, never reaching contention, and leave the way so many other great horses left us - having run one too many times. As she mounted her furious rally, I realized this truly is the best race mare of my lifetime and I mentally tossed away my e-tickets and begged her to get up; though she missed by inches, I thought the loss validated her legend more than any of her 19 wins.

Mj Hawk said...

Absolutely. There were only two mile-and-a-quarter horses out there today, and if she had to lose to anyone, Blame was a worthy foe. Let's all remember that great horses have lost before: Secretariat, Man O' War, Seabiscuit, and the best race Seattle Slew ever ran, he lost.

No one in his right mind could say, "Zenyatta just didn't fire today." If you look at the video you'll see her stride is about one-and-a-half to every stride Blame took.

My only regret is that Mike couldn't have taken her out to the middle of the track, turned her to the crowd, and saluted.

Jonathan said...

Good comments,

I was enthralled by 2 great mares tonight. One took my breath away and the other brought out an emotional reaction many would not think me capable of.

I've never got the obsession with perfect records as absolute merit is not measured that way. She beat good horses a fair way tonight she just could not bring back 1 good one enjoying a near perfect trip in a race he had seemed so perfectly suited to.

She's the best dirt mare I have seen.

darlene said...

Every word you wrote is true It is what so many are thinking and feeling tonight She joins the ranks of Secretariat,Affirmed and Alydar,and the Bid in my heart and mind forever as a champ and a privilege to witness this greatness I feel for Mike Smith but after seeing interviews with other great jocks such as Stevens,Bailey and Day I found they all had one race where the felt they let a champion down Hopefully he can get past it soon Thanks again for some great writing

Nancy said...

She indeed showed a lot of heart today. Bottom line is she got beat by a better horse, not just today but probably a better horse period. What I saw today was a mare whose talent was wasted by running against second tier horses in California. The mare could have shown so much more, it's really a shame her connections didn't challenge her more. We could have seen many more races like today and we'd have a better handle on just how good she is rather than have to wonder.

Jennifer Cook said...

You know I have always believed in Zenyatta, and she was gorgeous to watch tonight. But Blame would not have won if he hadn't dug in during those final strides. He deserves so much credit. I hope he gets it, even though most of America hasn't heard of him. My heart is breaking for Mike Smith! Zenyatta will not suffer this defeat the way he will.

ja.raymond said...

It's going to take me a while to work thru this one: Why, oh why didnt Smith & Sherriffs take Blame's mad late rush into account?? On the other hand, there were a couple of traffic problems she had to manuever.
At any rate, I think she'll still receive a heroine's welcome when she gets home.
TY, Brian, for a very eloquently written piece! :)

Celeste said...

Brian, thank you. Your lovely blog brought out the tears I had been trying to hold back because you have expressed so well what my mind was trying to clarify. I know that doesn't make much sense, but still...I thank you for putting into words what my heart is saying.

Raye Source said...

I agree with all except Nancy, she apparently is one who can't see the forest for the trees. Otherwise an excellent article, Superior race mare with a Superior rider. It's just another damn the bad luck situation.

Silent Sunday said...

Just as we discussed last night, anyone that thinks she drops a notch is foolish. I admitted I had doubts, but she answered every question tonight. I'm up in the air whether i think she would have caught Blame as I think he had more left and likes a fight, but regardless I witnessed one of the most historic races ever and if anything, she gains rungs on the ladder of greatness. I hope the HOY debate can subside for a while as the awards are a couple months away, I just hope people can enjoy what they witnessed for a bit and relish in it.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written post. Thanks! Zenyatta was the best horse in this race, but racing luck wasn't with her this time. Traffic problems are always a risk for stretchrunners. Blame's an excellent horse, but if they'd been the only two horses in the race, he would have lost to Zenyatta.

Jez said...

HOY? Is that seriously still up for debate? You lucky yanks have the best horse of the decade on your hands in Zenyatta, her ability is unquestionable, she has personality most humans can only aspire to and displays the gentlest of natures away from the track. Good luck to her foals, am just glad it's not me that has to take the first one away.

Jennifer said...

Beautiful article, Brian! You said it perfectly. :)

PersonalEnsign79 said...

I echo Mark's sentiments...you NAILED it and put it into the words I myself cannot find. Thank you for this beautiful post. What a day.