10/31/2010 1:47PM

Zenyatta + 60 = ?


As advertised on its website, the Halloween evening edition of "60 Minutes" was determined to take on the question of whether or not Zenyatta, six days shy of her defense of her title in the Breeders' Cup Classic, should be referred to as "the best horse ever."

The question, of course, is disingenuous, because no one who knows the history and nature of the racing game asks such a thing with a straight face. Concensus is neither expected or encouraged. It is a sad commentary on the depths to which horse racing has fallen in the eyes of the main-est of mainstream media that a) it takes a once-in-a-lifetime animal like Zenyatta to attract a flicker of attention and, 2) in order to justify committing the vast resources deployed to assemble such a story, the subject must be the best or the biggest, with its elements of the superlative boiled down and simplified for mass digestion.

In asking such a specious question, sometimes answers to better questions elbow into the frame. Hopefully, during the course of the piece, there comes some insight as to why Zenyatta rises to the level of asking about "best ever," beyond the obvious perfection of her record. What is it about the Zenyatta package that now, after 2 1/2 years of campaigning, "60 Minutes" finally drops by? I will concede that, without a doubt, Zenyatta is the best horse the most people never heard about until very recently, and that she will have a larger audience for "60 Minutes" than all of the live crowds and ESPN cable telecasts -- including two Breeders' Cups -- that have witnessed her in the past.

(For the record, on this edition of "60 Minutes" Zenyatta at least will be the smiley-face, sharing screen time with David Stockman, the backsliding architect of Ronald Reagan's economic policy, and the Iowa town of Newton, which is not doing so good.)

"60 Minutes" made its debut on Sept. 24, 1968. The first show featured backstage peeks at presidential candidates Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon, a look at police brutality with Attorney General Ramsey Clark, a commentary by Art Buchwald and a short film by Saul Bass. The atmosphere of the moment was charged with elections, political assassinations, war protests and carnage, but if "60 Minutes" had tackled the thorny issue of the "best horse ever" back then, they would not have needed to look far. One month earlier, on Aug. 24, 1968, Dr. Fager set a world record of 1:32 1/5 for one mile in the Washington Park Handicap at Arlington Park while carrying 134 pounds, the highpoint of a season during which he won major stakes from 7 to 10 furlongs, on turf and dirt, in New York, New Jersey, Illinois and California, and never carried less than 130 pounds. 

Mike Wallace: "Are you telling me he could have run faster than 1:32 1/5?"

John Nerud: "Coulda, sure, but what's the point? They pay you the same as long as you win."

The best horse ever? Impossible. In the game, the question is never taken seriously, posed only to provoke, to entertain, or trotted out by lazy columnists lacking an angle. I'll ask it sometimes of the guys and gals hanging around the tavern, which then gives me the chance to show off how much I know about Gallant Fox, or Discovery, and that usually clears the bar. Best singer of all time is easy (Ella), best town (Mendocino), best movie (Godfather Part II) and best jockey/mother of my child (ummm). But best horse? If they'd have asked, and I'm sure they lost my number, I would have told "60 Minutes" to go back to Lexington and work this way, stopping to kneel at Man o' War, Exterminator, Whirlaway, Citation, Buckpasser, Damascus, the good Doctor F., Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed and Spectacular Bid, and then we can talk about Zenyatta.

I was encouraged, however, by the presence of Michelle Boniface in a position of responsibility on the "60 Minutes" crew on location at Hollywood Park last week. Boniface, 23, is the granddaughter of J. William Boniface, the patriarch of the Maryland family whose Bonita Farm operation was the subject of the reality show "Thoroughbred," which aired on Animal Planet in 2001. It was Michelle's job to make sure the crew stood in the right places, talked to the right people and didn't step in the wrong stuff, at least not too often. If you like what "60 Minutes" comes up with on Zenyatta, Boniface deserves a nod. If you don't, blame it on the fact that the upper reaches of the media descend upon the carnies of horse racing only about once in a blue moon, and if they can't get the question right, how can anything else follow?


Belledonna More than 1 year ago
In my opinion, the biggest knock against Zenyatta is the way her owners raced her. That's why she lost HOY. Rachel ran on more tracks, she beat males three times. Three. When was the last time you ever heard of a three year old filly doing that? I must be one of the few people who likes Rachel and Zenyatta. Her first win in the BC Classic convinced me. If she'd lost, she STILL would have tied the record with Personal Ensign. I believe Zen's better than her handlers thought she was, but the poor thing never had the chance to prove it. There was absolutely nothing stopping Zenyatta from showing up to race Rachel in the Haskel or the Woodward. Why didn't she? I remember there was one race Zenyatta was scheduled to run in, and it rained the night before. She was scratched. The track was sloppy, but it was no big deal. If she had run, she very likely would have won. Even Mine That Bird's trainer wondered about that one, namely why did they scratch her? I believe Zenyatta lost HOY because she was handled too cautiously. That's my opinion. Flame me if you want to, I don't care. There's one other thing: Zenyatta's jockey said that she was having trouble with the dirt that was thrown in her face. She's a come from behind horse, and she had trouble with that? Maybe being restricted on those synthetic tracks finally came back to bite her big time.
Curt V. More than 1 year ago
BSB, And you don't call running 90% of her races on Attic Insulation, in one State, restricted to females only, glorified Allowance races ? Come please...She didn't beat one {1} single Grade 1 winning female all YEAR.....Since when does California call the shots on what a Horse of the YEAR campaign looks like ? Thank God there are 49 other States.........& I don't want to hear she scared{boo boooooo} everybody away...either......This aint the 1820 Wild Wild West...We have technology today. I guess you see now why Jerry{the ultimate culprit} decided to run on PLASTIC. He aint stupid, butts: he sure as hell is the worst Poker Player on the Planet........LOL...Can you figure that one out, Mr. Blackseabass.........He wanted no parts of Rachel, last year on DIRT, & all the excuses have run dry...How 'bout another parade & some bobbleheads & a Re-Re-Re-Re {that's 4 of them} unretirement parade ? You want some more...Detention barns ? Sloppy tracks ? Travel ? tell me..How in the hell did she make it to Churchill Downs, in Kentucky ? Beam me up Scotty ?!!!!!!!
luresdouble More than 1 year ago
Zenyatta faced approximately 85 horses in her first 19 races, that averages out to barely 4 competitor horses per race and if you remove the fields from the 2 BC Classics she ran in, the average field size of her competitors in her other 18 races is under 4 horses per race. You have to be joking if you think Zenyatta is as good as or better than MOW or Slew. I guess the Z Koolaide can do that to one. In any other year without the hype this would have easily been considered one of the shabbiest most distance and speed challenged BC Classic fields in history. Gee, lets see the "Monsters" who entered this race which Zenyatta faced: Fly Down - never won a G1, never beyered over 105 Musket Man - nice miler with no shot at 1 1/4, now 0-3 at the distance Quality Road - another nice distanced challenged miler with no shot at holding @ a 2 turn 1 1/4 race, now 0-3 at the distance Lookin at Lucky - a nice 3 year old in a very weak class of 3 year olds, never beyered over 105 Paddy OPrado - never beyered over 100, never won a graded race on dirt Haynesfield - nice horse, never beyered over 107 (and that was a 1 turn race), little chance at lasting 1 1/4 at 2 turns First Dude - never beyered over 103, never won a graded race on dirt Pleasant Prince - never beyered over 100, enough said Etched - only lifetime beyer over 100 was over a year ago in the slop at 1 1/8th Espoit City - useful Japanese miler with no shot at all at 1 /14 Blame - a horse who will probably end up being the slowest and weakest HOY we have seen in decades. Lets summarize his "dominating" year as follows: he begins the year by winning a G3 in slow time and earns a 100 speed fig. Follows that up by winning the Stephen Foster in one of its slowest runnings in memory and earns a whopping 103 for that huge victory over Battle Plan. Then wins the Whitney in 148 and 4 with a 111 fig (which is looking fake the more its looked at - the track wasn't that slow that day). Then runs 2nd in the JC Gold Cup earning a 101 in a race run in a slow time. Now wins the BC Classic in another slow run time of 2:02 and 1. To put how slow that 2:02 and 1 time was, Uncle Mo, a 2 year old with no prior lifetime 2 turn routes ran 1 1/6th earlier in the day in 1:42 and 3. If his jock had ridden him past the finish line (and he was basically handridden to the finish), he'd have had 19 seconds and change to run another 3/16ths and finish with the identical 1 1/4 time as the BC Classic winner and runner up. LOL! Now it gets even better, just 2 races prior to the Classic, the Dirt Mile is won by a 30-1 shot Dakota Phone in 1:35 and 1. This means had his jock ridden him past the finish line he would have had the identical 1 1/4 time as the 1st 2 finishers of the BC Classic if he could have run an additional 1/4 mile in a snailike 27 seconds! Beyer decided to apparently be very generous and hand both Zenyatta and Blame a speed fig of 111 for the classic which just like last year is below the average of the winning fig for this race and way way way below what true monsters such as Ghostzapper and Sunday Silence earned in their Classic victories. Yeah I guess you can delude yourself and convince thy that this was some incredible talent laden 1 1/4 field, but the truth is its participants were below the average of the quality usually seen in this race and 2:02 and 1 over that surface is nothing to brag about. There was a horse though who did run Saturday who should win the Eclipse award for best older horse in North America in 2010, in addition to the best turf horse.. Her name was Goldikova, and yes, even with just 1 appearance in this nation, what she did Saturday for the 3rd straight year should get her the award for best older horse. Her performance for the 3rd straight time was a much more dominating performance than anything we saw from any older horse based in the USA this year. It was far more dominating, far more briliiant, just plain and simple better. Blame will likely get HOY and he'll go down in history as one of the slowest HOY's we have seen in memory. That is reality, not Koolaide. Goldikova, for her disclipline airs over anything we saw in Saturdays Classic and she does so easily.
Blackseabass More than 1 year ago
Tom , You're right Z doesn't compare to Man'o War. 1/2 mow's races were match races or 3 horse fields. He left NY once. What were his Figs ? LOL. Seatle Slew, there is definitely no comparison because Zenyatta has never been beaten by half a pole as was Slew his one attempt in California and she didn't spend her 4yr old season running in alw races like Slew. If you want to teach your girlfriend about history maybe you better get a grasp of it yourself first. We should all just let Andy make a figure and that is the definition of greatest ? LOL. Ghostzapper ? LOL.
luresdouble More than 1 year ago
In a normal older handicap year Blame would not even be close to HOY. Look at his races ths year and look at how those races worked out. He starts the year by winning a G3 in average time with a 101 BSF. Then he wins the Stephen Foster in one of its slowest runnigs in hostory earning a very mediocre 103 BSF. Then he wins the Whitney and gets what looks like a very inflated 111 BSF and then he runs a 101 in the JC Gold Cup. I'm guessing his BSF for the Classic will be no higher tha 104-105 unless its very inflated, sorry but there is no way a 202 and change 1 1/4 on that track today could work out to more than about a 105. In any decent year Blame would not even be close to the top of the older handicap heap. The true north american older HOY did run today at Churchill, however she did not run in the Classic, she ran in the BC Mile. Her name is Goldikova. Her connections took on all challengers all year and whippped them. Yes, she only racewd here once this year but she came for the most important race in her disclipline and just like 2009 and 2008 she made the competition look slow through the stretch. It would ber nice if the Eclipse voters grew some brains and voted the horse who truly deserves to be NA older HOY, even with just 1 appearance here, Goldikova.
Belledonna More than 1 year ago
Mr. Hovdey, your list of all-time greats is missing one other great female runner. Have you ever heard of Ruffian?
luresdouble More than 1 year ago
No not really and I'll tell you why. The Classic is a 2 turn 1 1/4 mile race. While Quality Road is surely a nice miler and can even occasionally get 1 1/8th when he's up againsty suspect competition he in no way shape or form ever wanted 1 1/4. This was proven in the Whitney when he could not even hold off Blame after setting snail like fractions 48 and 1:12. Pletcher should have entered him in the dirt mile, he's not a 1 1/4 mile horse so trying to claim he was some big G1 threat at todays 1 1/4 distance is being intellectually dishonest. Same thing for Haynesfield, yes he won a 1 1/4 mile JCG around 1 turn at Belmont, again thats a totally different game than 1 1/4 at 2 turns. Fly Down isn't all that fast and yet he finished 3rd today, just more confirmation that todays Classic was pretty weak compared to other years. As to Looking at Lucky, he's a nice 3 year old colt, but the truth is he has never ever run a very fast race around 2 turrns, NEVER! His fastest BSF prior to today was a 105 which in most years would not even be fast enough to get you a Kentucky derby win let alone a BC Classic win at 1 1/4. He's a nice horse, but against older horses his record is not overly imposing nor does he look the part of a true monster. As to Blame, even he isn't all that fast. That's a FACT proven by the cumulative work of his races and times. Prior to today he had run exactly 1 lifetime was earning a BSF over 110, that was a 111 earlier this year. Other than that race, all his other winning races this year were run in average times and all earned BSF's of 105 or less. That does not qualify one as hugely overwhelming competition when talking about older dirt males in NA. To put how slow todays BC Classic was run, Uncle Mo, a 2 year old in only his 3rd lifetime race ran 1 1/6th in 1:42 and 3. The BC Classic at 1 1/4 was run in a dawdling final time of 2:02 and 1. That would mean that had Uncle Mo's jock continued past the finish line, he would have had almost 20 full seconds in which to run an additional 3/16'ths and he'd have had the same 1 1/4 time as the BC Classic winner Blame. That's how lame this years Classic ended up being. The dirt mile was run in 1:35 and 1, 27 seconds than the BC Classic final time. That means the winner of that race could have run past the wire and had a full 27 seconds to run another 1/4 mile to wind up with the same time as the BC Classic. That dirt mile race was won by a lifetime non G1 winner, Dakota Phone whose biggest claim to fame prior to today was winning a G2 on polytrack. The reality is that despite all the media hype and complete BS trying to make this Classic out to be some monster filled field, it was in fact not a great year for older males and on historical terms it was filled with pretty mediocre sub 110 BSF horses. Anyone honestly think there was any horse in today BC Classic who would have touched Ghostzapper, Awesome Again, Skip Away, Cigar, Concern, Medalia De Oro, etc?????? Anyone think Blame could finish within 5 lengths of any of those horses when they were on their game??? I don't! I'll be very interested in seeing what kind of speed fig gets assigned to todays Classic because given the final time of Uncle Mo's 2 year old juvenile and given the time of the dirt mile won by Dakota Phone a 30-1 shot just 2 races prior to the BC Classic, I'd be completely shocked if the winner of this race received a speed figure above say 103 or 104, and if they do its likely more hype being put out to try to make the race look better than it really was. Sorry, but on that track 2:02 and 1 was a pretty slooooow final timer for older G1 horses at 1 1/4. Ghostzapper would have dusted this field by 5-8 lengths, and that's not an exaggeration.
luresdouble More than 1 year ago
A mare who has spent nearly her entire career hidden in So Cal racing on fake rubber turf is one of the greatest of all time??? LOL The very notion that people would even think of comparing this mare with true all time greats such as Big Red and Dr Fager, etc is laughable. This mare has never beaten a single male graded stakes winner on real dirt, She has never beaten a single male graded winner on real turf, but she's somehow one of the greatest of all time because she built a nice unbeaten record facing mostly mediocre mares while running on rubber in So Cal?? Hahahaha, fanatasy can be fun indeed. This mare would literally be run off of her feet by any solid older dirt male in the past 15 years including Skip Away, Gentlemen, Holy Bull, Cigar, Mineshaft, Medalia De Oro, etc. Ghostzapper would have beaten this mare by 10 lengths or more without breaking a sweat.
luresdouble More than 1 year ago
You people are aware that Zenyatta has not faced a single horse this year rated in the top 50 older horses in North America, correct? Not one. Funny watching a horses connections who have done everything they could this year to duck serious competition claim she deserves HOY and deserves it even if she loses Saturday? Hahahaha By the way, Rachel absolutely deserved to be HOY last yearm she defeated grade 1 dirt males not once, not twice but 3 times while facing them on their preferred surface, real dirt. Zenyattas connections would not even have run in the Classic had it not been run on plastic. And who did she beat in that race? She beat some turfers who really were not all that fond of polycrap and some dirt horses such as Summer Bird who didn't like it either. Saturday, she gets a dose of reality of facing older males on dirt. This isnt even a particularly strong year for dirt males and she;ll still struggle to finish 4th, watch and see.
pecoy More than 1 year ago
"This isnt even a particular strong year for males"? So you dont think quality road,blame,looking at lucky are G1 caliber Dirt horses?. And just to let u know Zenyatta is 2-2 on dirt with her largest margins of victory. And yes zenyatta will beat this years male classic field (best field in a long time) easily going away.
love 'em all More than 1 year ago
Perhaps instead of being caught up in the issue of who's "best ever" or bemoaning the fact the 60 Minutes waited until now to "drop by" and capture a small part of the magic that is Zenyatta, you might better celebrate the exposure that the Breeders' Cup races and the throughbred racing industry received via this broadcast. Has the NTRA done so much to promote its own sport? I think not...