01/11/2010 2:14PM

Mas Moss


Instead of poking and prodding Jerry Moss for a straight answer to the question, "Is Zenyatta retired or what?" last Saturday at Santa Anita Park, the flower of Southern California racing journalism (I confess to being among the wilted) would have served our readers--not to mention the kid's college fund--a whole lot better if we'd asked him for a tout on Banner Lodge in the third and Neko Bay in the eighth.

Banner Lodge is a 6-year-old son of Chester House who paid $6 in winning an optional claimer on the turf. (In his youth, Moss worked at Banner Lodge in Connecticut, and the head waiter's name was Chester.) Neko Bay is a 7-year-old son of Giant's Causeway who paid $12.40 in winning the San Pasqual Handicap at a mile and one-sixteenth on the synthetic main. (Moss and his wife, Ann, once ventured to Neko Bay in Antarctica.) The Mosses have younger horses, but they're just not ripe yet. Both winners were accompanied by Mike Smith, who was wearing a brand spanking new set of Moss colors featuring their traditional bright pink and a green so green you knew it had never gone through the wash.

"Originally, it was malachite green," Moss said, summoning the name of the gemstone.

"By now you can call it Moss green if you want," chirped Smith. "Just like Claiborne orange."

Moss and his closest advisers continue to hold to the line that Zenyatta is retired and will be bred. When asked why she is still in California, they point to the Weather Channel and impugn the Kentucky climate. When asked why she is still tossing off half-mile works every couple of weeks, they insist she needs the occasional blowout to keep her from going stir crazy. When asked if it will make a difference if she wins the Horse of the Year vote or not, they say of course not.

"It's a nice problem to have," Jerry Moss said as he followed Banner Lodge out of the paddock last weekend. The "problem" could have been a reference to the media attention from speculation about a change in Zenyatta's plans. It could have be about having a finalist for Horse of the Year. He even could have been talking about when some kind of announcement might be made.

This time last year, Zenyatta was doing nothing more than jogging around the training track at Hollywood Park. By the third week of January, 2009, she began galloping. After winning the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic on Oct. 24, 2008, she did not have another recorded workout until March 2, 2009, a half-mile in :48.80. Then look what happened.

No one asked my advice, which is usually the best time to give it, especially for free. But if there is going to be some kind of announcement made about Zenyatta's future, I would hope it goes something like this:

If Zenyatta is going to be retired, the fact needs reaffirmation, underlined by her disappearance from California. The Mosses need be concerned about nothing other than Zenyatta's well being. But why perpetuate such a tease? Zenyatta is so deeply identified as a racemare with her Hollywood Park training grounds and the John Shirreffs barn that as long as she lingers out West, confusion will reign. Not that confusion is a bad thing.

If Zenyatta is going to run again, the announcement needs to be made before the Horse of the Year envelope is opened next Monday night in Beverly Hills at the climax of the Eclipse Awards dinner. If the Mosses wait until after the award is announced, and Rachel Alexandra wins, it will seem impetuous and self-serving, two things that Jerry Moss is definitely not. It would be okay, though, if Moss makes the announcement earlier in the evening when they accept Zenyatta's inevitable Eclipse Award for champion older mare. They would bring down the house. Then, no matter whose name turns out to be in that envelope for Horse of the Year, the mood for the evening would already be giddy, the future would glow with possibilities, and the Stonestreet wine would flow.

The only variation would be the ultimate dramatic gesture, a throw of the dice made possible only if NTRA president Alex Waldrop utters the "Z" word when he opens the Horse of the Year envelope. The Mosses could step to the stage and announce that, because Zenyatta has been so honored, they feel obligated to keep a sound, healthy, 6-year-old Thoroughbred mare with just 14 starts in competition for another season, for the pleasure of fans everywhere, answering all challenges from all comers. I know, I know. If I want a Disney ending I should go see that Frog Princess thing. Just let me have my dreams.