09/29/2010 6:46PM

Home Girl Zenyatta


What do the names on the following list have in common, other than each and every one being a whole lot better than an empty stall ... ?

Tom Fool, Native Dancer, Nashua, Bold Ruler, Sword Dancer, Carry Back, Cicada, Northern Dancer, Shuvee, Numbered Account, Key to the Mint, Forego, Desert Vixen, Alydar, Easy Goer, Safely Kept, Inside Information, Housebuster, Xtra Heat and Mineshaft.

a) They represent a list of potential movie deals now that the Hollywood version of "Secretariat" is such a giant hit, even before it has been released.

b) They make up the menu of discontinued "novelty cocktails" featured through the years at Siro's during the Saratoga meet.

c) They are the key players in Mike Watchmaker's ultimate fantasy stable ... in his dreams.

Okay, so the answer is "none of the above," which is always the safe way to go. In fact, add Big Red of Meadow Stud to the list, because Secretariat and the others were birds of a feather when it came to geography, since they all managed to craft remarkable careers without once wandering west of the Mississippi River.

Somehow, California racing fans of a certain age survived, their enthusiasm intact, without ever brushing close to such flesh and blood heroes. As far as us cowboys and surf bums were concerned, such horses did not need to prove themselves against the best in the West, even though the best could be pretty good.

In fact, it is my vivid recollection that when monsters of the East did show up out West, they were greeted with respect, sometimes even awe. And with good reason. Dr. Fager grabbed a Californian Stakes and shook it silly. Buckpasser and Damascus both hit their marks at Santa Anita. Riva Ridge was nothing less than heroic in his Hollywood Derby. And even when they lost, nothing was held against them. Kelso, Seattle Slew, Foolish Pleasure, Temperence Hill, Summer Squall -- they all failed to fire their best shots in California, but lost nothing in translation.

The issue is brought to mind with Zenyatta's 17th appearance in California on Saturday in the Lady's Secret Stakes at Hollywood Park, since in some stubborn quarters her people continue to be criticized for failing to embark on a multi-city tour of the East Coast at some point in her illustrious run. (For the purposes of this item, Zenyatta's two trips to Oaklawn Park to win a pair of Apple Blossoms will be completely ignored, as has been the case for the past three seasons. Apparently, what happens in Hot Springs stays in Hot Springs.)

Fair is fair, but that never stopped anyone. In the 39-year history of the Eclipse Awards, only two champions have been granted Horse of the Year honors without ever leaving California: Ack Ack, in 1971, and Ferdinand, in 1987. Of the other 37 Horse of the Year campaigns, 16 of them were of the pure East Coast/Midwest variety, including those recently of Ghostzapper, Saint Liam, Invasor, Curlin in 2007 and Rachel Alexandra just last year. Okay, so Invasor also ran in the Middle East, but that gives you an idea of how far some people will go not to race in California.

For the record, I wish Zenyatta was running at Belmont Park on Saturday in the Beldame Stakes. That is where she belongs, playing at least once in her lifetime on New York's grandest stage -- Big Mama meets the Big Apple. The idea of Z reaching out with that powerhouse left lead around the fat Belmont final turn, going 9 comfortable furlongs, was singularly appealing. Too bad nothing happened to make it so.

Instead, it will be business as usual at Hollywood Park, where Zenyatta has already had two farewell races and a farewell ceremony. Maybe this time, just to shake things up, Mike Smith will jump off halfway around to bust a move, or pause to floss. Other than that we know for sure that Zenyatta will be last early and first late, and any talk about her next race in the Breeders' Cup Classic is premature until this one is in the books.