10/04/2010 1:11PM

Zenyatta on the Brain


Zenyatta's legacy cannot be measured by speed figures.  Her greatness cannot be defined by come-home times, pace ratings, money earned, and championships won or denied by mere mortals.  Even the amazing race record she has accumulated cannot adequately describe what she means to the Sport to Kings. 

When the history books are written, and all is said and done, it is the incalcuable qualities that will distinguish Zenyatta from the majority.  It is the goosebumps and the smiles.  It is pure emotional energy.  It is charisma. 

Olivia Katherine Duckworth, 3, already a racing fan and aspiring handicapper, couldn't have been more excited about Super Saturday.  And who could blame her?  The Jockey Club Gold Cup headlined a card of five Grade 1 races at Belmont.  Preakness and Haskell winner Lookin At Lucky would make his final prep before the Breeders' Cup in the Indiana Derby.  Two-year-olds would get their main two-turn tests in Southern California. 

But when her Uncle walked through the door on Saturday afternoon, he was met with only one greeting.

"Zenyatta!" cried the Dutchess of Duckworth.

Out of the mouths of babes.  Who said there was an East Coast bias?

The child has a serious case of Zenyatta on the brain.  The questions came in staccato fashion. 

"How big is Zenyatta?"

"Why does she have cotton in her ears?"

"She can beat Quality Road, right?"

"Uncle Danny, how come you never pick her?"

"Will you do the Zenyatta dance with me?"

I patted the sweet tot on the head as I answered in order:

"17.2 hands."

"Because people make loads of noise when she runs."

"I would think so."

"It's not that I never pick her on top.  I have picked her on top plenty of times.  It's just that I...well, I can't really answer that question."

"Only if you share your cookies with me."

The queries stopped suddenly as Zenyatta appeared on television.  The child was mesmerized, bewitched by each and every move the great mare made.  You see, Zenyatta is not just a racehorse.  She is a Svengali, a magician, an entertainer, and a role model.  When Zenyatta did her patented pre-race strut, Olivia laughed, then mimicked the maneuver.  When Zenyatta made her way to the track for the post parade, Olivia applauded along with the rest of the Oak Tree at Hollywood crowd.  When Zenyatta crammed herself into the starting stall, Olivia leaned forward, intently studying the scene.  You could tell the little girl was nervous, like Cindy Lou Who wondering if the Grinch would steal the Christmas tree, gar-dinkers, and blue-toopers. 

The uneasiness grew as Switch, a quality three-year-old filly from the John Sadler barn, opened up a solid lead as the Lady's Secret field turned for home.  Zenyatta was rallying from the back of the pack as she always does, but for a brief second, things looked somewhat bleak. 

"Go, Zenyatta!  Run!" cried Olivia Katherine Duckworth.

"It doesn't look good," said Grandpa from the couch. 

"Oh grandpa, she'll win," scolded Olivia.

And she did.

After the kid whooped and hollered and did her special Zenyatta dance, it was back to analyzing Zenyatta.  As the big mare posed for her winner's circle photo, she pawed the ground over and over.

"She's counting," noticed Olivia.

Nineteen down.

One to go.


Back tomorrow with your questions and comments as well as the past performances for Thursday's HandiGambling exercise.


John Kosanovic More than 1 year ago
I can't believe Victoire Pisa won the 2011 Dubai World Cup with a 2:05+ Zenyatta would have won that one hands down for the 20th... : (
Keith Kohnhorst More than 1 year ago
A $2 win parlay on Zen's 19 straight now stands at $30,000, enough to pay for Olivia's first year in college.
John More than 1 year ago
ClodkerDan, Thanks for your comments. As for myself, I take the facts at face value without speculation. We really don't know how Ruffian would of ended up. Perhaps undefeated like what Zenyatta is looking at now, or simple plateaued like what Rachel Alexandra seems to have done in 2010. Yes, Spectacular Bid was an amazing racehorse. I believe he is listed at #10 on Bloodhorse's top 100 list. Actually, Spectacular Bid and Zenyatta poses some similiar numbers. For instance, the "Bid" carried an average of 123 lbs. per race in his 30 race career. Zenyatta has the same. The "Bid's" average speed ratings (DRF) was 94.0 even despite his many track records. Zenyatta is 95.17. And the "Bid's" average size field per race was at 6, Zenyatta is at 7. Then you have the fact that Spectacular Bid never lost a race between 7 furlongs and a mile and a quarter, while Zenyatta has never lost, period. Finally, Bill Shoemaker, whom had riden many great thoroughbreds always called Spectacular Bid the greatest racehorse he has ever ridden. Then you have another HOF jockey Mike Smith whom has said that Zenyatta is the greatest horse he has ever ridden. So you can see the many similiarities between the two.
John More than 1 year ago
Bravo Laura S., Also check out Jay Hovdey latest column "Zenyatta put on quite a show" here in the DRF. He tells the truth.
John More than 1 year ago
Clodker Dan, Sorry to imform you but nobody is "slamming" Ruffian. It's a statement of facts. For the sake of seeing where Zenyatta measures up to these greats you have to compare the stats. And Clodker Dan, stats don't lie.
ClockerDan More than 1 year ago
John: Sorry, I shouldn't have said "slam" when comparing horses of different eras. I guess my point is that it's futile to compare two greats from different eras, whether you're talking race horses (is Zenyatta better than Secretariat or Man O War?), baseball players (was Ted Williams a better home run hitter than Alex Rodriguez? stats don't lie), etc. It's true that stats don't lie but stats compiled by a mare like Zenyatta who runs through her 6-year-old year HAVE to be more impressive than a horse like Ruffian who was stricken down mid-way through her 3-year-old campaign. Zenyatta beat 52 Grade 1 winners. Great. How many Grade 1 winners would Ruffian have beaten if she ran until she was 6. 32? 102? Who knows? That's my point. Same with wins over a mile. Running just as a 2-year-old and then only half of a 3-year-old season, she of course didn't have the opportunity to run many races over a mile. The same can be said for Eclipse award/divisional champs beaten, etc. So yep, stats don't lie, but they can be used to sway the gullible into buying into your argument. Politicians use stats that don't lie all the time to try to push their agenda. By the way, Spectacular Bid set 8 track records, including the 10-furlong world record. Since stats don't lie, I gues that makes him 8 times better than Zenyatta who set "only" one track record. And I guess if Zenyatta loses in this year's BC Classic, then one would have no choice but to conclude that Personal Ensign was a clearly superior race mare. Undefeated vs. one loss. Stats don't lie. Ruffian, Personal Ensign, and Zenyatta. Three greats from different eras. 3-way tie.
LauraS More than 1 year ago
Nineteen of Man o' War's 21 races were in New York, one each in Maryland and Canada...but then again, travel WAS much harder in the 1920s. Man o' War never raced in Kentucky (then in "the West") because Sam Riddle believed that Kentucky racing was below the standards of the "East" i.e. New York and Maryland - an early example of regional bias. Man o' War also left his division only twice - the match with Sir Barton and in the Jockey Club Gold Cup where the track had to go begging for another horse to run against him and finally found a mediocre three year old whose owner was willing to run for second. Personal Ensign had 10 of her 13 races at Belmont Park, left New York only once, and raced a grand total of 2 over-matched males - in the Whitney. Ruffian's races were all in New York with the exception of one in New Jersey. (She gets a divisional pass due to her age.) But they are all justly and universally considered all-time greats. We can go on and on with statistics such as these, but I think what bothers many fans is that Zenyatta, because the majority of her races have been in California (racing there having been looked down on long before all-weather tracks, believe me) is being held to a different standard by some than any of the greats of the past. Each time she reaches a new milestone, it's always "but she hasn't..." and the bar has been raised even higher. What she HAS done is defeat EVERY horse who's been put into the gate with her. In 17 Graded races, 13 Grade 1s. At distances from 6-1/2 furlongs to 1-1/4 miles. At four different tracks on FOUR different surfaces - yes, the three synthetics are that different from each other. At the top of her form for 34 months. Distance hasn't mattered; pace hasn't mattered; weight (129lbs anyone?) hasn't mattered; racing luck hasn't mattered. ZENYATTA JUST WINS. FROM DEAD LAST. With her ears pricked and hardly blowing. No excuses necessary. And she dances too! Every fan of horse racing should be celebrating her accomplishments and touting her for the great racing ambassador she is. But nooooo, a few vocal nay-sayers in prominent places (publications) have to tear her down because she doesn't race WHERE they want her to or HOW they want her to. Racing has a golden opportunity to showcase perfection with personality and we're mostly dropping the ball. Shame on us! Here's to hoping that Zenyatta realizes that she needs to win the Classic by open daylight in world record time so even her most vocal critics will have to admit they were wrong. I'm afraid that her usual "heart attack" win won't cut it with them. They'd be ret-conning the field and/or finding excuses for their "beasts" so fast your head will spin. Just like last year, when she "had no chance" against a "superior" field – check the archives, those statements are there. Then she won, and suddenly the field wasn't that good after all and it was all the track's fault. Sigh. She ran her last mile of the Classic in 1:33 and change which was faster than the winning time of the Mile. Summer Bird’s time in finishing FOURTH was faster than his winning times in the Travers or JCC and he didn’t run his race?!? Like I said, ret-conning. This year, it’ll probably be the darkness at post time…or the lights! Go Zenyatta - Twenty will be Grand!
Teetop More than 1 year ago
Everybody who criticizes her should read this post. Thank you, LauraS
John H More than 1 year ago
It took Mr. Baffert a fair amount of time to get the hang of synthetics, and turf for that matter, since they run the same. You have to train your horses to close in that last 5/16 mile. Before synthetics, he and others were training their horses to run close to the lead and the synthetics allowed the "ordinary" closers to catch his "good" horses before the wire. His "good" horses certainly looked "ordinary" as they were passed by these "now good" horses. You just can't bolt to the lead and hang on for the wire anymore.
ClodkerDan More than 1 year ago
I understand all the hate-speak between the Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta fans, and by now it's getting boring. They both had fabulous years last year and one of them had to win a popularity contest that enraged the fans of the other. Reminds me of what we're about to see in these upcoming mid-term elections. But to slam the late great Ruffian, who never trailed and could only be beaten by breaking down in an ill-conceived match race mid-way through her 3-year-old season, is just bizarre. Look, let's call it a 3-way tie between Ruffian, Personal Ensign, and Zenyatta and leave it at that. Even if Z loses this year's BC Classic, she has already proven enough and secured her spot in history among fillies and mares. I love seeing all the passion in these posts, I wish there were more die-hard racing fans out there. But don't slam the memory of one past horse's greatness in order to try to elevate your opinion on the current champ. It does both horses a disservice.
YYZGUY More than 1 year ago
If Beyer Speed Figures were cars, there would have been a government recall announced and Ralph Nader would be all over it. Stopped paying attention to him years ago, a resent that everytime I buy a Form he gets his piece. He is simply not a very good handicapper. He is a great promoter with a big mouth. Good for him. Keep in mind, Bad Handicapper on Dirt equals Bad Handicapper on Synthetic.
Anne More than 1 year ago
Dan, I enjoyed your article and thrilled to see a new fan to the racing world. Maybe you should listen to her more without your over thinking of Zenyatta's abilities. We desperately need new fans and she seems to be quite interested in the sport and it's stars. I spoke of Zenyatta to a co-worker who now watches her races. She is not one to be too enthusiastic about anything but to listen to her after Zenyatta's races, she sounds like a whole new person. That is what this mare has achieved. New fans and excitement as soon as she sets foot in the paddock. But... the media has not done its job to promote her which would promote this dying sport as well. 19-19 and still running. Steve T. hits the whole process on the head. She has won on 3 different synthetic surfaces which are harder to run on than dirt with the way the surface moves the hoof once it hits the ground. Each one of those surfaces has a different consistency which is no different from the different dirt tracks being the depth or forms of dirt used. She has won on dirt twice and still no recognition. Even though she seems to handle it better. You can make comments on all big race events and who they beat. They beat who shows up. You mean to tell me that only, what, 6 flillies were at Saratoga this summer to run against Rachel Alexandra? Yet, they stayed in their stalls. All the people who feel the Mosses and her trainer have cheated them need to understand that they were doing what was best for her. She does not travel well and has back issues. She becomes extremely nervous and dehydrated while flying. Flying is not an easy task or her. We are not talking about a van ride to another state. Many people have issues after flying long distances since the altitude levels change the higher the plane travels. Just the time changes alone when we fly west to east or east to west... throws our whole timing off. Why would this not be the same for a horse? Looking at Lucky always seems to have some issue when he flies east. Zenyatta would have had to ship back and forth constantly... it eventually would take a huge toll on her and instead of still having this gal around she would have been retired or injured. For what? To satisfy people like Andy Beyer and other handicappers or those who put marks by her name? Horses health should be first and nothing else should be considered relevant. Instead of comparing her to a grass specialist from Europe, we should be praising our own and cheering her on to a victory in the BC Classic this year. She is a gift who could be on the verge of a 3 peat BC win... on a track that they are always tweeking during big race days. A track they seal if wet, scrape when dry etc...after each race... We have had tragic breakdowns on it during BC days and to tell you the truth, I am not excited about watching any races on it during the BC this year. How nice to have 2 BC's of late without tragic breakdowns. I finally could go home without tears. So people, Let's cheer Zenyatta on and be enthusiastic for her just like Olivia.