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By Jay Hovdey
Alonso Quinonez, welcome to the club. Jumping off Hollywood Oaks winner Switch after the Lady's Secret on Saturday at Hollywood, Quinonez uttered those words now becoming familiar. "I thought I had her beat," he said, figuring everyone would know who "her" was. There was an echo, though, variations on a theme, from the lips of jockeys who for an intoxicating few moments, deep in the stretches of Santa Anita, Hollywood or Del Mar, thought they would be the one to deliver the blow that knocked Zenyatta off her pedestal.
"I thought I won it," said Tyler Baze, dizzy with disappointment, after Zenyatta caught Anabaa's Creation at the wire in the 2009 Clement Hirsch at Del Mar. "I didn't know where she was, but I knew she was coming. She came and just got us."
"I was inside the sixteenth pole," said Ramon Dominguez after Gio Ponti gave him everything in the 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic. "That's when I heard the commotion from the public. I looked over and saw her and thought, 'Okay.' There was nothing I could do."
"I don't know what to say," said a disheartened Martin Garcia last summer, after St. Trinian's emptied her tank in the Vanity Handicap. "I can't say anything right now. I couldn't have asked her for any more. The other mare is just too much horse."
Rafael Bejarano was more circumspect after his near-miss in August aboard Rinterval in the 2010 version of the Hirsch, when Zenyatta beat him a neck. Bejarano noted that he inherited a pace he did not necessarily want that day, and that had he been able to sit behind horses early the result may have been different. This speaks highly of Bejarano's self-confidence, and in his belief that nothing is ordained. For a slightly more reality-based point of view, he needed only to consult with Garcia, Baze, Dominguez or the rest of riders on the list who have been aboard the last horse passed by Zenyatta in each of her 19 wins.
Bejarano, sorry to say, did not get a chance to fine-tune his tactics with Rinterval on Saturday. A message of sorts was sent the race before, when his mount, Boxeur des Rues, bolted so badly on the final turn of the Norfolk Stakes that Bejarano hit the deck. The colt took off in the direction of the chute at the head of the homestretch and, undaunted by the securely locked gate guarding the path from the backstretch to the paddock gardens, wedged his way through a narrow gap at the railing and fled toward the grandstand. Boxeur des Rues, who left a few tufts of horsehair on a bent piece of metal extending from the gate hinge, was caught before he could be claimed as a door prize by someone in the reported crowd of more than 25,000. But the 2-year-old did not look the least bit embarrassed as he circled with his relieved groom off to the side of the path while Zenyatta, Rinterval and the rest of the Lady's Secret field passed by, on their way to be saddled.
Bejarano shook it off and was ready to go again when he got word from the paddock that Rinterval had reared in her stall and tried to flip with such ferocity that the stewards had no choice but to remove her from the race. It is tempting to suggest, giving full voice to an anthropomorphic angle, that Rinterval wanted nothing to do with the monster being saddled two stalls down, especially after what had happened at Del Mar, and pulled a Quality Road, preferring to fight another day. But these odd things happen, and after giving Informed Decision and Zenyatta good fights in her last two starts it is hoped Rinterval recovers to play again.
That left Quinonez and Switch to play the part of the Washington Generals to Zenyatta's Globetrotters, and they did it well, actually making it appear as if Big Mama Z raised her pulse rate a notch. Mike Smith even smacked her a couple of times -- must have been a nervous tic -- to finish the job. And that was that. Zenyatta's 17th and final California appearance, dating back to her maiden win on Nov. 22, 2007, was in the books with another check mark.
These last few races from Zenyatta have had a ceremonial element that distracts from the intrinsic challenges of simple competition. The signs, the hats, the t-shirts, the people who come to town with tales of pilgrimage and inspiration -- this is entertaining, up to a point. But it has nothing to do with horse racing. These are people finding reason to invest in a Thoroughbred horse as a reliable hero -- thin times indeed -- just as Secretariat gave rise to unreasonable hopes that he could heal the sick and make the lame to walk, or at least provide a distraction from the headlines of Watergate and Vietnam.
Unfortunately, horse racing has disappeared so far into a niche of its own making that Zenyatta remains largely unknown beyond the game's most devout followers. As such, she is far from a Secretariat-style cure all for the Iraq-Afghanistan blues, or a soothing balm on the recession-ravaged middle class of a nation back on its heels. Still, it was nice that Penny Chenery, better known as Secretariat's mom and in town for the "Secretariat" movie premier, could be alongside Ann and Jerry Moss for the winner's circle presentation Saturday. Fine birds of a feather.
What was left properly unsaid in the flurry of another Zenyatta-palooza was the fact that it took place just four days after Rachel Alexandra had been retired. As it turned out, their only real rivalry was in the polling of those Eclipse Award voters last year who went for Rachel for Horse of the Year. Otherwise, they existed in universes that weren't even particularly parallel -- just a couple of very good horses competing at the same time in different parts of this very large country.
It is an everlasting shame that Rachel Alexandra never recovered from the effort it took to beat older males in the 2009 Woodward Stakes. But that is the nature of the beast. Now the ball is cleanly in Zenyatta's court. Stepping up at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6 in the Breeders' Cup Classic, she has that rare chance afforded only the greatest, most romantic of athletes who arrive at their final hour with a chance to make it their finest.
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Luresdouble, I've seen every horse you mentioned in person sans Holy bull. All put together they don't make a carbunkle on Z's backside. LOL. Silver Charm, a horse that I liked never won a race by many many open lengths in his life. Get a clue. Jim Thorpe wasn't that fast either, right ? LOL Nick Choporis, Do you want to explain how a "BIG fan of Zenyatta" like yourself saw Goldikova race twice but didn't happen to see Zenyatta ? Were you broke and out the gate before the Classic ? I call BS. Nice attempt at a fabrication though . LOL Tell that story to Disney they might make a movie. LOL They were running the Big Cap for $125,000 when the Jockey Club Gold Cup was for $7000 !!! Hardly comparable races !! How do you like that ? The Woodward or Stephen Foster ? Don't make me laugh. Kram , You quote a confirmed Europhile that picked Rip Van Winkle to win last years classic and couldn't hit the board with 3 picks. LOL. A guy that had 1/2 a dozen different horses as his best in the world in as many weeks this year. That guy went from its to strong a field for Z to hit the board to it was the weakest Classic field ever assembled in the blink of an eye. No intellectual integrity ! LOL. You're not going to get Curt V. to back you on that one. I know him. He's an internet friend of mine. He has more intellectual integrity than that. He thinks A.S. is a joke and has said so many times. Kram you're the guy that came over to Formblog when LSD posted the horses that THE TOP OF POP AND STOP and Zenyatta had beaten in their careers . The stakes winners . It was apparrent that there was no comparison. You stuck by the tired falsehood that Z only beat the same stumble bums over and over even with the evidence right in front of you and everybody else. LOL. You should get a job on Fox you would fit right in. LOL. I think Pollo has got you pegged very nicely. No matter how much you try to deny it. LOL. Horses can't go dirt to synthetic ? Zenyatta has went from dirt to synthetic twice with Victory both times. Explain that with your regurgitated Beyer blatherskite. POLY WANT A CRACKER? HER EMINENCE OF ACQUIESCENCE's Heart ? LOL. THE RENDITION OF SUBMISSION never looked another horse in the eye without spitting the bit. She couldn't even outrun a Smoke Glacken at 10 f. The ONLY Smoke Glacken to ever win a 10f race at any level EVER. Some stellar field that was. LOL Qev, Do you honestly believe that the rest of us can't remember what you were saying ten short months ago. That upstate NY watering hole must be doing some brisk buisiness from you and your cronies. Crying in your beer because your heroes JJ and THE PRINCESS OF SWAGGER AND STAGGER couldn't compete. Now you're trying to make it about the Moss's and Sheriffs . Thats pathetic. Zenyatta has won 1/2 the F&M 3+ Gr.1's ran in this Country this year. Yeah Zenyatta is a mare, although people tend to forget that. She's the winner of 13 GR.1's. Gr.1 is the top level until they start running Gr. Z's. LOL. Zfanism, Don't fall for that weaker competition mularkey. Zenyatta has defeated the winners of over 200 stakes . 52 gr.1's. Unlike The Only Filly Ever Ever. She has never competed in a Gr.III or an overnighter much less been drubbed several times in races of that calibur. Z broke 4 track records but I think only the one you mentioned still stands. Don't give the ContRAs an inch . Just keep slapping them in the face with the fact that The QUITTER OF THE LITTER wasn't what they claimed she was . That really bugs them because they're in denial. How many Gr.III's, overnighters and maiden races did the QUEEN OF QUINELLA end up losing before she was done? LOL. Curt V, I got my Dennis Miller going tonight. How did I do ? LOL. What do you think of guys that can't back their own play ? In all the back and forth you and I have had I don't think you ever needed help to make your point. LOL. Jay H. You were excused from hounding Z's connections the day that Li'l Z sent a message to the those other guys and they said thanks but we have smaller game in mind and we're not sure we can handle that.
the part i dont get is this: if Zenyatta was western horse running on a fake track, she should have been trounced in the breeders cup classic.What people dont think about is she never gets a pace to run at.No matter, she lopes then pounces.When she got a pace she swallowed up all the boys in the classic.If Haynesfield,Quality Road, Looking At Lucky, et all ...go out..Zenyatta will have the easiest race of her career.Especially when Mike Smith knowing this is it for Zenyatta lets her do her thing & doesnt just try to win by a small amount. Fingers crossed i get 5/2 this year too.
Zenyatta has a nice record running on what is essentially fake turf, not fake dirt. The horses who excel on polycrap are almost all turfers. Zenyatta has had the muxury of usually battl;ing dirt horses on a surface they really do not want to run on. Sorry Trevor, but her win in the BC Classic last year was NOT one for the ages. She beat a mediocre BC Classic field on fake plastic dirt which included pre race solid contenders such as Einstein? LOL If Zenyatta raced on real dirt against any seriously decent older male of the past decade or two, say a Skip Away, Cigar, Silver Charm, Ghostzapper, Tiznow type she would be well beaten by many many open lengths. I'm guessing that Looking at Lucky will take her down on the dirt at CD (and while he's good, he's no monster ala say a Gentlemen or Holy Bull were in their prime. When she loses the excuses will start to flow like water. She really is a nice polytrack beast, but the pattern of speed figs for her do not lie. She simply isn't all that fast from a pure speed standpoint and she would have to run a race many many open lengths faster than she has ever run to beat any of the seriously good older dirt males we have seen since 1990. She will lose BC day, bookmark it.
I've been reading this blog for two weeks and the level of ranting of the Z haters continues to perplex me. I'm very fortunate to live 5 minutes from the nation's best race track. I also greatly prefer dirt racing since it's been the staple of American racing for my lifetime. I'll be very happy to see the restoration of dirt track wherever it occurs. However, when they get into the starting gate at a syn-track and the bell rings, it's still a horse race. Z has beaten every runner she's faced. Her conquests have included champions and grade I winners. She won America's toughest race last Fall against all comers at 10 furlongs. That's where the Breeders Cup scheduled the race. Her owner didn't site the event, nor did her trainer or Z herself. It was where the annual American championship meet was held. Just as she did in ever other race she's entered, she won America's championship race for 2009. All the nonsense about the weakest field ever, syn track, home court advantage don't matter in horse racing. If I recall correctly, they paid on her winning tickets. She shipped to Oaklawn to defeat Ginger Punch three years ago and again shipped there this year ready to face Rachel. I too would have liked to see her travel East a few times, but the fact that she didn't does not diminish the achievements she's chalked up. My all time favorite horse is Secretariat. I was 23 in his Triple Crown season and a racetrack regular of many years by that time. I had the great fortune to attend nine of his races in person including his clock shattering Belmont Stakes and Marlboro Cup victories. I was also there when he was beaten by Onion and Prove Out. I also witnessed in person the greatness of Ruffian, Alydar, Affirmed, Slew, John Henry, Bid and many other HOF champions. The great ones had one thing in common - they consistently won at the highest level. Z wins G1 races, she won the BC Classic. She qualifies in my book. I firmly believe that Z is among the finest and fastest thoroughbreds to race in my lifetime. Her BC Classic stretch run was as impressive to me as any of single effort I've seen in 50 years as an avid fan of the sport. Whether she ends her career 19/20 or 20/20 I will still put her there. I can't say the same for Rachel who I consider a HOF filly but not in the very highest echelon. I watched her all out to beat a mediocre field in the Woodward. Does anyone think that Macho's closing kick is even close to Z's?? My television showed her similarly begging for the wire with Mine That Bird driving at her in the Preakness. Her Beyer figs were sometimes very impressive but try making a living relying on Beyer figs. They're only a fraction of the story of a race horse. Winning is what pays. If I had a vote, Z would have been my HOY last year and would likely be again this year. I can't wait for this race and I'm hoping for a fast track and clean break. I'd also like to see Z fire one of her 23 second bullets down the stretch at Churchill. If she does, let's see her detractors type a few words on the blogs.
Mr. Hovdey, I believe earlier this year you remarked how you would become the conscience of horse racing to Messrs. Moss and Sheriffs if they continued to avoid racing Zenyatta against top quality competition. I was wondering how that endeavor was proceeding. Although I have not caught every blog or article you have written this year, in the ones I have seen I have yet to see any mention of any interaction between team Zenyatta and yourself regarding that matter. I just finished reading the DRF article today about the wondrous Goldikova, and was just dreaming about what it would have been like to have seen Zenyatta racing in the Woodward, or the Stephen Foster, or the Jockey Club Gold Cup(or for that matter even the Big 'Cap, or the Pacific Classic). As a racing fan(and a BIG fan of Zenyatta) I feel like I have been robbed of something I will probably never have the chance to see again, a horse like Zenyatta taking on all comers, and the chips falling where they may. Even though I have only seen the great Goldikova race twice(and hopefully a third time in a couple weeks), I have one thing to say; Thank you very much Mr. Freddie Head !
Pollo Your "theory"? Sorry but not true. I don't think anyone doubts Zen's greatness. She is a great horse. However, some have mentioned her in the same breath with Secretariat (who by the way once brok two track records at Saratoga- in a workout) but I digress. She can't be put in the same class as horses like Secretariat, Seattle Slew or Spectacular Bid because she just is not as fast as those horses. She is not even as fast as Ruffian was or RA was as a three year old. In the absence of her facing the top male horses we can only judge her on times- and they are not that impressive. If you want to judge her on being undefeated does that make Peppers Pride her equal? Oh and by the way, if the chopped up tires and coffee grinds are so great why did I see a picture on the DRF website a few days ago of a front loader picking up that garbage in preperation to go back to a real rcing surface? Just thought I'd ask.
Taken directly from today's DRF: "Naysayers will point out Zenyatta’s perfect 19-for-19 record, but without disparaging what she has accomplished, it must be pointed out that Zenyatta has been dodging top-quality competition for most of her career. Had she been challenging and beating the best of the breed the way Goldikova has done since the middle of her 3-year-old campaign, Zenyatta backers might have an argument. But her stay-at-home Southern California campaigns at the ages of 4, 5, and 6 against a modest bunch of fillies and mares paints her as a provincial champion with only a single world-class performance to her credit, that when beating one of the weaker Breeders’ Cup Classic fields last year in her backyard at Santa Anita." I guess Curt and I aren't the only ones who have been saying this after all.
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