12/27/2009 1:16PM

John, John


John Shirreffs even made himself laugh with this one. As he waited for the signal to bring Zenyatta to the track Saturday afternoon for her public appearance at Santa Anita, exercise rider Steve Willard had strayed from the main stable road with the big mare. "Come on!" beckoned Shirreffs with a wave of his arm. "You'll miss the parade!"

Of course, Zenyatta was the parade, and she put on a rousing good show, with a gallop the length of the stretch and halfway back, and long, riveting pauses in front of the packed grandstand apron and clubhouse loges. She was performing on a low dose of the common tranquilizer ace-promazine, just to soften her racing edge, and she had begun to sprout the hint of a fuzzy winter coat, but no one in the grateful opening day crowd knew the difference. Zenyatta was and ever will be the Thoroughbred who gave Santa Anita its greatest competitive moment since the operatic final ride of Johnny Longden in the 1966 San Juan Capistrano. By the time she was being led back to the barn, she was doing her Zenyatta goosestep, and more than a few in the crowd were left wondering, "When is she going to run?"

DSC_0075 She's not, though. She is retired. And only the greediest among us would ask for more from a racehorse who never let anyone down for two solid championship seasons. Still, another "farewell" appearance like the one on Saturday was as much a tease as it was a treat. And the fact remains that Zenyatta still gallops every day and breezes the occasional half-mile at her Hollywood Park home base (most recently on Dec. 21, in :49.40), that there are no plans to send her to Kentucky for breeding until the end of January, and that a stallion has yet to be selected to father her first foal. Besides, in the John Shirreffs scheme of things, were Zenyatta to race again she would be getting right now the same six months off she got between her 2008 and 2009 seasons. If she were to race again. What cracks me up, though, is the fact that Zenyatta is farther along in her training toward motherhood than Rachel Alexandra is toward her return as a 4-year-old in 2010. I know, that's comparing apples and peaches. But it just cracks me up.

I think the whole Zenyatta crew is having such a grand time in the afterglow of her Breeders' Cup Classic performance and 14-0 career that they really don't care if comeback rumors spread. "That's what rumors are for," winked Shirreffs, lapsing into his most enigmatic mode. Let's give them their long goodbye.

Following the parade, and before the more serious business of the La Brea Stakes and Malibu Stakes took place, Shirreffs made a point to stop for a moment at the freshly unveiled statue of John Henry now commanding the north side of Santa Anita's grandstand fountain. Any critical reviews of Nina Kaiser's remarkable bronze were rendered inconsequential after Ron McAnally stood beneath the revealed statue and softly said, "It looks just like him." Fans were still lingering at the site as the sun set on opening day, taking pictures, just staring, remembering.

"I only saw him once," said Shirreffs, who was happy to sign a few more Zenyatta souvenirs as he admired John Henry. "Most of that time, while he was running, I was at the farm, in Loma Rica. But I was working here for Brian Mayberry for awhile and one morning I saw John Henry stop by our barn on his way to the track. He went--" and here Shirreffs made one of those horse noises he likes to make--"and then moved on."

Only the most fortunate trainers get a life-changing horse, a horse by which all others are measured and always fall short. Lucien Laurin got Secretariat. Bud Delp got Spectacular Bid. Ron McAnally got John Henry, Bill Mott got Cigar. Shirreffs got his, and there will never be another.

With the John Henry statue and Zenyatta live action short, Santa Anita's ringmasters pretty much emptied the nostalgia bag opening day, and there were more than 35,000 fans there to enjoy the show. Now the hard part begins, slogging through what is predicted to be a wet January with a downsized horse population and five cards a week to fill. The huge gap between the majesty of the Santa Anita setting and the sight of four-digit crowds rattling around inside on weekdays over the coming months begs for strategies that have yet to be applied. Fewer dates, fewer races, smaller arenas, alternative gambling and forms of entertainment--they are all significant moves in the reinvigoration of the game.

The sorry part of the story is that Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta came along at a time when economic forces had already taken the starch out of the sport. We will never know if a head-to-head showdown would have made any difference beyond the memorable moment. The fact that they were two years apart in age and 2,500 miles apart in training grounds made their intersection difficult in the most friendly environment. In fact, Rachel Alexandra ran in exactly one race for which Zenyatta was eligible, while Rachel was eligible to all five of Zenyatta's races, but was otherwise engaged.

I would steer anyone to Steve Crist's recent column on this site (http://www.drf.com/drfNewsArticle.do?NID=109724&subs=0&arc=0) decrying the state of a sport that was not somehow able to get its two greatest attractions together on the same stage, with full television resources unfurled, sponsors scrambling on board and horseplayers hanging from the rafters. Yes, they were both on the grounds and entered to run at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks day last May, but that was as close as it got, and too early to make a difference. A bad track kept Zenyatta in the barn, while Rachel won by a pole. So there you go. When in doubt, we can always blame the rain.

Anne Castle More than 1 year ago
Let's face it, Zenyatta beat the same males as RA and then some of the best older males in ONE race. RA did it in 3. Why waste time? I don't know where in the record books it says they have to run only on dirt. Certain trainers know the insides and outs of Synthetics and do well on both. Pioneer of the Nile almost won the derby...and it seems he was running in California. The winner also ran on synthetics. Talking about synthetics vs. dirt is getting old... especially when we DO have them on the east coast. Disgruntled fans think they are only on the West Coast ha...we started them! RA ran at Keeneland and won. Jackson orchastrated RA's races with a plan...no races at a 1 1/4 (not a distance she would relish) and not to add any weight. Zenyatta accomplished the distance and carried 129 pounds spotting her opponents 16 lbs. No matter who a horse runs against, weight matters. Add some ankle weights to yourself and see how well you do. RA still never faced older mares and one of her famous so called races was against 3 horses... Zenyatta won 14-14, won the Classic first ever filly or mare to do so, won two different categories of BC races. RA never ran in a BC race representing either owner. Zenyatta ran the fastest last quarter of a BC, never was she blowing hard after a race or looking less for wear... even in the BCC... RA was almost on her knees after the Woodward... after being whipped 20 plus times. Instead of being happy after that race (I was there on the rail) I was angry no one complained about that abuse. Any other jockey would have been crucified for that whip beating. One thing that was never mentioned was that RA was a Jan. foal which made her a few months older than her counterparts. That seems to be an issue for the Derby starters but never mentioned dealing with her. I have always smelled a double standard when it came to RA against Zenyatta. I am from the East Coast and still smelled it. There seemed to be more marketing as well during RA's recent campaign (big deal when she would be working out, big deal when she came to the paddock for schooling, bid deal when she ate her food or when she would rear up walking with her hot walker and the blessed shank chain would go across her mouth...oh, she LOVED that) If Zenyatta doesn't receive HOTY, she should not hang her head in shame... the voters should!
afleetalexforever More than 1 year ago
It seems that you would fall into the category of the "Breeders Cup is the end all of horse racing". Unfortunately you are WRONG, a set of races on a synthetic surface in which no dirt horses ever really had a chance, does not really seem to be true championship racing to me and it seems that a number of others agree. Yes Zenyatta ran once at Oaklawn Park, she ran a nice race and beat Ginger Punch. Nice of you to take us back to 2008, as for 2009 the sad part is all of the dodging done by Mr. Moss, your beloved and im sure favorite owner. The Churchill scratch, the article in the DRF that stated they were shipping Zenyatta to face Rachel before the running of the Mother Goose, and then the outright sad Lie they told about wanting to run in the Beldame. Why all of the games, Jess Jackson set out a schedule and thats where Rachel ran, he didnt target a race then say well "so and so" is not running so we're going to change things up and run somewhere else. As for the track the day Zenyatta scratched, hmm I dont recall Rachel running on a sloppy surface so that excuse is awful, but expected, is it that Zenyatta can't run on anything but a fast track, yeah seems that way, sad she has to carry her track with her. Thats not impressive. I've spoken a number of times about the level of competition that she ran against in her career, she ran against very few consistent grade 1 horses. In her B.C. races she faced Grade 1 winners, who ran in tough campaigns and Zen's were so much. http://www.drf.com/drfNewsArticle.do?NID=109754&subs=0&arc=0 please take a look at this article, Here is a quote that you should really read very carefully "Zenyatta made five starts, all in her home base of California, and won them by a combined margin of 6 3/4 lengths. She scored four wins against soft filly-and-mare competition before she ended her career by winning the Breeders' Cup Classic, becoming the first member of her sex to capture America's richest race. Her claim to the Horse of the Year title rests almost entirely on that performance." Mr. Beyer made that statement, is there anything you or anyone else would like to add about her total campaign that would refute that. Tell me please how impressive the Milady, Vanity, Lady's Secret or Clement L. Hirsch is. That would be interesting, Please advise as to how impressive it was beating Hot N' Dusty, or Champagne Eyes or Allicansayiswow. Those resumes really stack up, oh no they dont, actually in the 4 races before the Breeders Cup Classic Zenyatta did not face but 1 horse that won a Graded race in 2009. That would most likely be considered teh lowest form of competition you can find, please quote me on that. Also looking at the classic, yes the classic field was great if you put each of the horses on their surface, Gio Ponti, and the Euro's great on grass, not so much on synthetics, the dirt horses we wont discuss because there is no reason. dirt horses were 0-43 or someting in the 2008 and 2009 Breeders Cups, so it seems like the pro-ride is not a fair surface, it makes Great horses look mediocre and it makes mediocre horses look great. again not impressive, and Horse racing 101, when a horse is in form and peaking like Macho Again and Bullsbay and MTB and Summer Bird and the others that Rachel beat, thats the most impressive thing you can find on a track. Disregard them if you like but that is what amateur newbies do when looking at something without objectivity. Horse racing analysts look at the horses that Rachel beat when she beat them and it impresses them. Who would people listen to the people who have done this professionally for years or a Zenyatta loving fan who feels 1 race trumps a 20 length romp, an american classic, a 19 length romp at the same time breaking records by Ruffian, and a 6 length win against the 3 year old champ (Oh yeah Zenyatta beat him by 3 on a surface he hates, Rachel beat him by 6 on a surface he loves, Hmmm) and then a gate to wire win against older horses, something that Zenyatta is not even capable of, Kate you seem very confused, there are books that you can read and websites that you can visit to get information on topics of this nature, therefore you wouldnt have to come on to national sites and make yourself look so naive. I've been asked before would Rachel have beaten Zenyatta in a matchup of a full field at 1 mile and over, yes most easily I would say, 1:46.33 was her Mother Goose time without effort, ears pricked, Rachel was a tired horse after running against the highest of competition and consistently throughout the year, unlike Zen she didnt get more than 40 days off after each start, after the Woodward on synthetics would Zen have beaten Rachel, well sure when a horse runs in the East against top tier competition all year long they get tired, not the same on the West Coast where there is very little quality, running against mediocre optional claimers or allowance horses is not taxing to a horse like Zenyatta. But many out west feel that a horse that finishes in the money in a Grade III race is something that is quite impressive, so that kinda shows the level or lack there of with regard to competition. Maybe you should sit down with Mr. Moss and find out why they were so scared to come face Rachel, it would have gotten ugly as she pulled away from the closer lol a romp that would have left Zenyatta with a loss, oh yeah if she had run on dirt she would have lost alot. Thats just the nature of the game, but I am glad that you mentioned the one race on dirt. She was a decent dirt horse, mostly because she didnt run on dirt consistently. Kate maybe you should try to debate someone who wont find so many holes in your argument, oh Zenyatta should win the Hoy award because of 1 race huh, even the owner can't put together a decent argument for 2009, he had to mention 2008 or her career achievements 8 or 9 times in his article. Please read this article, http://www.thoroughbredtimes.com/media/pdfs/mosszenyatta.pdf. Let me know how many times Mr. Moss makes mention of 2008 or her career record, its laughable. Unimpressive and well considering he knew it was a argument for HOY, i'd call that ignorant on his part, but oh well, your arguments sound pretty much like his, keep trying though. It's comedy.
Kate Harper More than 1 year ago
Afleetalexforever, Scared to face Rachel is in your own mind. Jackson had absolutely no intention of pitching his filly against Zenyatta on any surface. And you are dead wrong on nominating Zenyatta in the Beldame which Jackson conveniently bypassed. Here are a couple of links for you to ponder: http://www.insidesocal.com/horseracing/2009/11/zenyattas-camp-wanted-to-meet.html http://hovdeyblog.drf.com/hovdeyblog/2009/10/index.html What tough competition did RA meet in her restrced races? All those standout filles? Please, they're a joke. And she never faced the top 3 year old colts because the top ones were injured prior to the Preakness. As far as your consistent excuse making for dirt and turf horses being beaten in the Classic, I guess you forgot the excuses you gave last year when Curlin was beat. All those Euro turf horses at a distinct advantage over poor Curlin, but this year your storyline is the turf horses didn't translate their form to the Pro-ride. Try and keep your explanations straight from one year to the next. We all get that you hate West Coast racing but a true racing fan doesn't place that deep-seated antipathy on a horse because of where she is based and ran the majority of her career. I know it sticks in your bile that Zenyatta not only ran in the Classic but won it in one of the most stirring runs imaginable. I'm sure both you and Jackson assumed she wouldn't run in the Classic and, if she did, wouldn't win it. Now you and others try everything you can to disparage her and what she achieved in hopes RA gets HOY. You need to grow up.
edmond saskel More than 1 year ago
Racing is a big tent and I'm all for a multi-faceted approach to marketing the sport. But the only way to bring horseplayers back to the track is to create a situation where horseplayers feel they have a competitive advantage by being at the track. Instant rebates for on-track bettors and/or access to superior information via user friendly information delivery systems (here think of a few well placed crawl boards bringing the latest changes to the handicapper instead of forcing him to walk all over the place to find them,) are just a few of the ways racing can begin to make the track the place where the sharp operators go to make their bets. The path of least resistance, of course, is to succumb to the conventional wisdom and accept that the future of racing is all Internet all the time. Which is basically the "infinite ocean, infinite fish" philosophy which has bellied up so many fisheries around the world. Certainly, from this perspective racetracks should be considered the estuaries of the racing world; the place where horseplayers are born and nurtured; a vital, critical resource in the wagering ecosystem. The Internet may be the ocean, but the tracks must be the spawning grounds for future generations of horseplayers. Recognizing this, Racing should start rethinking its future by figuring out ways racetracks can provide competetive advantages to their live customer base. Then again, maybe Arkansas and Ohio have it right, and the future of horse racing is parimutuel wagering on taped races. If it's only about the action, and not about the majesty on display in the paddock, maybe live racing has truly outlived its relevance.
C More than 1 year ago
"She is retired. And only the greediest among us would ask for more from a racehorse who never let anyone down for two solid championship seasons." Greediest? It wasn't too long ago when top horses ran 15 times in a single season and stayed in training for several years. Now, those who want to see half as much are greedy. Wow, how this sport has changed.
Curt A Vassallo More than 1 year ago
& 2 the connections of Zen, whom I blame, not the horse; the perfunctory lame excuse 4 NOT running in NY, was the "Detention Barns" ? How quick we forget that little tidbit of oversight. & remember how long it took the Moss's 2 decide which race Zen would enter in the BC ? We didn't even find out until 2 days before the race. If this isn't tantamount to DUCKING, then Donald Duck is a tadpole. Rachel, the Great, is Horse of the Year. & all U Plastic(fake DIRT) fans, can send UR sympathy cards to the Moss's, & thank them 4 the greatest game of hide & seek, 4 the last 30 years. Don't blame RA, it's NOT her fault that Zen REFUSED her invitation to New York..LMAO..
afleetalexforever More than 1 year ago
Other than Ginger Punch, the others that ran in that race were Brownie Points, Lemon Drop Mom, Clever Strike and Kettleoneup Let’s see Kettleoneup is a horse that won 3 of 12 starts. Mike Smith is quoted as saying every horse that Zen faced in the Apple Blossom came back to win their next start, again someone in the Zenyatta camp making up things to make her look better, in her next start Kettleoneup finished 5th in the Louisville. “everyone in that race all came back and won is what he said, everyone from the runner up to the last won the next race out”, that’s a totally false statement. I am sure just like the comments that are made by Mr. Moss also, http://www.drf.com/news/article/105032.html http://www.ntra.com/content.aspx?type=news&id=40180 There was never any intention to run her in New York. But lets see you want to know who would have beaten Zenyatta in the East, an in form Ginger Punch, Hystericalady, Music Note, Cocoa Beach, Tough Tiz’s Sis, Unbridled Belle, Seventh Street, Seattle Smooth, Flashing, Careless Jewel, Icon Project, Swift Temper, oh and you can’t leave out the HOY, Rachel Alexandra, all of the aforementioned horses could and mostly likely would have made Zenyatta earn a victory on dirt, therefore Mr. Moss the smart business man he is realized that and that would be why Zenyatta had all of 1 start on a dirt surface. Its not rocket science, if as he stated in his HOY summation he wanted to run his horses on dirt there are Plenty, I’ll repeat Plenty of races he could enter them in. The Beldame, Personal Ensign, Go for Wand, Ogden Phipps, Louisville, Ruffian, First Flight and a host of other races that would have allowed her to have her greatness defined against top tier competition race in and race out. But to place her in the easiest most comfortable spots, well that’s not sporting and that doesn’t define greatness, that’s the mark of a man who is not in any way confident in his horse. But her come from behind style and almost losing to a horse that was still working through the conditions book by the name of Anabaa’s Creation would most likely cause that. LOL
Bernard Downes More than 1 year ago
I can well understand the arguments put forward in support of Rachel Alexandra, but why all this horrible vitriol against Zenyatta? Anyone who watched the BC Classic and wasn't wowed by Zenyatta's performance, has no blood in their veins. Indeed, I suggest they get their noses out of their PPs and Beyer figures and try to watch their next Group 1 horserace simply as a sporting event, something to be enjoyed in its own right, even without betting a dollar on the result. Regards - Bernard
Nancy More than 1 year ago
Jay - enough with the digs at Rachel Alexandra and her handlers. You don't have to get petty and juvenile in your comments towards the horse you're not voting for. Grow up and start showing some professional.
Cathy More than 1 year ago
Once again, Zenyatta-haters like afleetalexforever feel the need to attack her legacy. I can't imagine what motivates you people to scan the blogosphere for anything remotely favorable to Zenyatta, then scurry there to trash her. That behavior reflects badly on you, not Zenyatta.