11/01/2010 12:16PM

A memorable October with Zenyatta


It is Breeders’ Cup week and the work in California is done.

The Hollywood Park home where Zenyatta lives will be relatively quiet.

Zenyatta was to fly to Kentucky on Tuesday, and the stream of media and fan activity at her California stable will have ended.

For journalists and Zenyatta fans lucky enough to spend time this fall at the barn of trainer John Shirreffs, October 2010 was unforgettable.

The morning of Oct. 3, a day after Zenyatta snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and won her 19th race, people showed up in droves.

Fans had pictures taken with Zenyatta. Journalists had pictures taken with Zenyatta. Other trainers and relatives had pictures taken. Everyone oohed and everyone aahed. Zenyatta was showered with attention, and she ate it up.

“She is a ‘people’ horse,” exercise rider Steve Willard said.

All month, the commotion continued. People turned up daily – fans from out of state, journalists from out of country. A man and woman celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary showed up one day unannounced.

The woman asked to see Zenyatta. “Is that her? Is that really her?” The woman’s voice quivered. Her knees shook. This is true stuff. Zenyatta casts a spell.

Zenyatta’s calm demeanor, and the quiet confidence from her caregivers, allowed her to cruise through October. All the while, she trained like a beast and put on a show.

Fans were allowed to pet Zenyatta. When she heard cameras click, even though her ears are always stuffed with cotton, she picked up her head and posed. Normal horses do not do stuff like that. Zenyatta is not normal.

Jerry and Ann Moss own Zenyatta, who was covered last week in a story by Sports Illustrated. Ann held up the pages of the magazine for Zenyatta to look at the pictures. She nodded her head.

Does Zenyatta recognize herself in the photos? “I think she does,” Ann said.

In the buildup to a $5 million race, one expects a degree of tension at the stable. In October, it never showed. The staff was calm. No one rushed. Voices were never raised.

Shirreffs explained the stress-free environment.

“Everybody communicates well, and when you communicate well, there’s a total understanding of what’s going on, and each person’s goal. With that understanding, comes less tension.”

The work in California is done. October is a memory, one that is unforgettable.