01/17/2010 4:13PM

Game On


In the immediate wake of the anouncement on Saturday that Zenyatta would continue to race this season, at age 6, John Shirreffs stood in the breezeway of the Santa Anita clubhouse mezzanine and chatted amiably with anyone who wandered by. Most of the crowd, horsemen and fans alike, offered congratulations and thanks. Congratulations for what Zenyatta has accomplished and thanks for what was perceived as the trainer's role in convincing Ann and Jerry Moss to back away from their original intention to close the book on Zenyatta's racing career.

"Just do me a favor," cracked Bob Baffert. "Don't run her in the Santa Anita Handicap."

Baffert's got the family horse, Misremembered, aiming for that prize. But Shirreffs wouldn't make any false promises. At various times, depending upon the audience and the sincerity of the question, Shirreffs addressed running in the Dubai World Cup ("Why?"), facing Rachel Alexandra ("I'd want to get a race into her first.") and when, in fact, Zenyatta could be ready to go ("Tomorrow."). This last one was said with the straight face of a man holding trip aces an nothing showing. Go ahead, you call his bluff.

Anyway, it was all good fun. And, contrary to some thoughts on the subject, the timing of the decision made the events of Monday night at the Eclipse Awards Dinner that much more exciting. Zenyatta will get an Eclipse Award. Rachel Alexandra will get an Eclipse Award, then one of them will get another one, all played out in an atmosphere rife with anticipation for something other than the Triple Crown, for a blessed change.

Until she loses a race, Zenyatta will continue to make history with every step she takes. Still, it is unreasonable to expect Zenyatta's 6-year-old campaign to look like the one unfurled by Susan's Girl in 1975, when she started 17 times and earned the third of her three Eclipse Awards:

Download Past Performances Susan's Girl It is not, however, unreasonable to hold Jerry Moss to his published wishes of nearly a year ago, when he foresaw Zenyatta on a much different flight path in 2009 than the one she took in 2008. He wanted her seen by fans far and wide, but instead she raced only in California, unwaveringly focused on a Breeders' Cup finale. Even though things turned out okay, many were justifiably left wanting more.

More they shall have. Still, let's not give these folks too much credit for doing things that have been done before. Azeri was 6 when she won the third of her three straight championships in 2004. Track Robbery was 6 when she capped her championship season of 1982 with a nine-length win in the Spinster. The South American Paseana was 6 1/2 by the calendar when she won the second of her two championships in 1994. Estrapade was 6 when she beat the boys in the 1986 Arlington Million, on the way to her Eclipse Award. Champion Brown Bess was 7, champion Typecast was 6. There were others.

Few will ever know what it is like to own a horse like Zenyatta, or Rachel Alexandra, or Lookin at Lucky, or Summer Bird, or any of the other champions that will be honored Monday night. Still, we try to slice off a little piece of the glory for ourselves, claiming the privileges of discovery and appreciation.

Even so, there are pockets of unrest. Believe it or not, there are those on record who believe that the announcement of Zenyatta's retirement after the Breeders' Cup Classic was a psychological warfare operation to squeeze a bit of sympathetic support from susceptible Horse of the Year voters.

There are people who believe the Mosses changed their minds because they were either convinced or informed, on the hush-hush, that Zenyatta had lost the vote for Horse of the Year, leading them to selfishly toss their mare back into the ring in an effort ease their grief and right what they perceived as an historic wrong.

There are probably even those who think Jerry Moss needs the money, or that Zenyatta is really some freakish, sterile hermaphrodite -- half male/half female, half horse/half dinosaur -- and that any idea of breeding her was absurd in the first place. Also, given the dire predictions of a shrunken racing economy over the coming years and the fact that a foal produced by Zenyatta in 2011 probably would not see the light of a racing day until 2014, who could blame her people for running for the money on the table right now?

All these things can be believed, and more, with enough imagination and sufficiently small regard for the facts on the ground, or for the past quarter century of respect and regard with which the Moss racing operation has been viewed. If such fantasies give the believers comfort, there is no real harm, as long as they leave room for the rest of us who prefer our controversies and conspiracies to have real victims and serious consequences.

Jerry Moss says he changed his mind because he loves to watch Zenyatta run. He is not alone. Now watch what happens.