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.

Ed in Corona More than 1 year ago
Bob Rose More than 1 year ago
Mr. Shirreffs, a true master trainer, invited my daughter and I to come and visit in October, and as a lifelong horseman myself, I can honestly say that it was the greatest morning I ever spent at a racetrack. Not only is Zenyatta the greatest race horse I've seen since I was first licensed as an exercise rider in New York in 1952. My career includes stints working for Hall of Fame trainers such as Max Hirsch when he trained for King Ranch, and Woody Stephens while he trained for Cain Hoy Stable. I honestly felt that all those seven-day work weeks, freezing cold rail trips cross country with the horses occurred for the few hours we spent visiting John and his wonderful crew, and of course, The Queen of the Sport of Kings! While I refuse to dignify Michael F's absurd comments above, I do hope he puts his money where his mouth is, so I can get 2-1 on the greatest race horse ever foaled.
markinsac More than 1 year ago
Michael, you put Friesan Fire in the same paragraph as Zenyatta? The luckiest horse in history? Now what about Mine that Bird and Super Saver? They won the Kentucky Derby and never won again. I guess they are more skilled than (lucky) Zenyatta.
wparrish More than 1 year ago
Soft field unsuited to the distance? You need to climb aboard the Zen train and lighten up!
Meghan Janusz More than 1 year ago
Come on, Michael F. Lighten up. If you hadn't noticed, Zenyatta beat Awesome Gem and Richard's Kid handily last year. Enjoy her while she's still here. Thanks, Brad, for the beautiful piece.
tim s More than 1 year ago
I have followed Zenyatta since the third race of her career. The first time I saw her in the paddock walking ring, I thought, wow, who is this horse? Then after the race I was convinced this was something special. My brother figured if you had bet $2 win on her first race, and kept parlaying the winnings on all her future races, you would be up to something like $15,000. Not bad for a $2 investment. Good luck, Zenyatta.
Lisa Aviani More than 1 year ago
I was that woman celebrating her 18th wedding anniversary...and it's true! I almost cried when I saw Zenyatta. She is sooo beautiful and majestic in person. And truly gentle and sweet too. I must say, I could not believe how gracious everyone at the barn was. From the trainer Patrick Gallagher, who took us in having never met us before, to the groom Mario who disrupted Zenyatta's lunch to turn her around for pictures, to (Zenyatta's trainer) John Shirreffs who came out to see us off. It was an amazing and incredibly positive experience...well worth the 90-mile drive from Santa Barbara, and one I'll never forget. Lisa in Santa Barbara
tim s More than 1 year ago
Lisa, how lucky you are to have seen such a beautiful horse in person. Someday maybe I will have the pleasure to see this horse up close. Zenyatta will surely go down in history as one of the best ever, perhaps the best ever. I saw the 60 Minutes special and have seen many interviews with all her connections from her groom, exercise rider, trainer, and owners and I totally agree with you. They are a class act, with a very, very class horse. Enjoy the race Saturday, I think we are going to see one for the ages.
Michael F. More than 1 year ago
This is going to set off a firestorm again, but I still think that Zenyatta cannot be considered a truly great horse even if she wins her second BC Classic and retires at 20-for-20 (unless she can somehow win by daylight and break 2:00 for the 10 furlongs, neither very likely). The reality is that, for all the hype, this cannot be considered a truly great BC Classic field. Incredibly, the only horse who has ever won at 10 furlongs (other than on the turf) besides Zenyatta herself is Haynesfield. Lookin at Lucky has not done it, Blame has not done it, and Quality Road has definitely not done it. Look who is not there: Misremembered (winner of the Santa Anita Handicap), Awesome Gem (winner of the Hollywood Gold Cup), Richard's Kid (winner of the Pacific Classic at Del Mar), Super Saver (the Derby winner), Drosselmeyer (the Belmont winner), Afleet Express (the Travers winner). Also, a number of potentially dangerous older horses who were expected to remain in training for this year (Well Armed, General Quarters, Friesan Fire) have not stayed around. Trickmeister, a rapidly improving three-year-old who could have been any kind, is hurt and is out as well. No dangerous Euros are entering the Classic. The fact is that Zenyatta is the luckiest horse in history, again facing a soft field unsuited to the distance. She probably will win, but so what?
Curt More than 1 year ago
You sir, sound like someone that has bet against her over and over to no avail.
Andrew K. More than 1 year ago
I will offer you the less emotional response to your post, because I assure you it will get a lot worse than what I respond with. If she wins, she's one of the top-10 horses in NA history. The argument is simple. She never lost, and she accomplished something only done once before, win back-to-back BC Classics. She will have done it on multiple surfaces. She will hold the record for most consecutive races won, most consecutive g1's run, and will be (possibly) the only horse to win 3 BC races. Until someone else touches those records, you have to appreciate the accomplishments. I will agree with you that this BC Classic field is being a tad built up. To be fair, the same thing happened last year. Last year's BC test was supposed to be the end all be all. How quickly was that field torn apart by her critics (unfairly I might add, those horses continue to win G1's in all kinds of fashion). Your argument is that she will not have beaten anybody special, my question would be who would you have liked to see her beat? What horse in the last 30 years would provide the kind of competition you are looking for? What makes a great horse? Is it the races won, winning in general, who they beat, where they race. etc? Consider every horse of the last 27 years that we have had the BC. Only one horse has accomplished what she would do if she wins on Saturday. Certainly, that must account for something? I'll throw another question at you, who is the greatest female horse in NA history? The standard response would be Ruffian, so as a counter, I would ask you to tell me how the competition that Ruffian beat compares to that of Zenyatta's fallen foes? Using this line of thinking, it's hard to argue two very important points. 1) Should she win, it is hard to say any female horse in NA history can touch her accomplishments. 2) It would be foolish to argue, looking at the numbers, that she isn't the greatest horse since the last TC winner. And if you disagree (again this is predicated on her winning) please provide evidence to the contrary. I don't see it. So if these two standards are true, then the question becomes where does her accomplishments rate to those of the truly elite? And you must first start that conversation with she will have a perfect record. She never lost. And that allows for the imagination of what would it take to beat Zenyatta? I would like to think I am not a dreamer, I feel that Zenyatta is not the greatest horse of all time. I don't think she can fit that unfortunately because of her schedule. If she had traveled over the last two years, if she had gone to Europe at some point, maybe won the Arc, then she could have that claim. But if you look at The Bloodhorse list of the all-time greats, her accomplishments fit. I think she slides in around number 10, give or take. The number are consistent with the best we have ever had.
Rod V. More than 1 year ago
I'm the first to admit that Zenyatta's connections have taken the conservative route with her this year, but I don't necessarily think this is a soft field. LAL is the likely champion 3YO male, and one of Blame/QR is likely to be champion older horse. Not having won at 10 furlongs doesn't necessarily make this a soft field, and the truth of the matter is that if any one of the three CA horses who won the 3 big handicap races were running, people would still dismiss them as synthetic horses. If Zenyatta wins it, she'll have beaten the Preakness/Haskell winner, the Foster/Whitney Winner, the JCGC winner, the Donn/Met Mile/Woodward Winner, and Musket Man/Etched/Fly Down/First Dude have run competitive races over the course of the season. Do I think the field is up to par to the '84, '88, '98, '01 or '04 editions? Maybe not, but this is a solid, solid field. I also think it's commendable that Zenyatta's connections have kept her at the top of her game over the course of three seasons. I'll take her over most other recent champions of the past 10 years or so (most of whom had one great season and then were retired), like: Charismatic, Big Brown, Bernardini, Street Sense, Smarty Jones, Empire Maker, etc. Among her own sex, only Azeri in recent years even comes close. I think Zenyatta's only run as fast as she's needed to, to win. Assuming nothing goes awry with any of the horses in the race, I think Zenyatta's greatest masterpiece awaits, in which case we're going to see history in the making.
hialeah More than 1 year ago
Unforgettable, indeed! Here's hoping that this November is UN-BE-LIEVABLE!!! Just like last November.