12/12/2010 12:58PM

Zenyatta of the Years


The ballots for Eclipse Awards will be sent out this coming week, to a list of 247 voters who represent such diverse constituencies as Equibase chart-callers and field reps, racing secretaries, turf writers and a whole slew of folks who work for the Daily Racing Form, which is as it should be, since the Racing Form is one of the sponsors of the awards. So there.

A lot is made over the regional bias inherent in the spread of the ballots, dividing the racing nation into red states and blue states -- or B states and Z states, as it were. But I prefer to give my fellow voters the benefit of the doubt. In this age of rampant information and readily available video, waking up in Rhode Island does not mean the game ends at the Adirondacks. And out here in the unsettled West, we cheer like idiots at the sight of a wild Whitney or a robust running of the Haskell.

A host of my colleagues have stepped up to tell the world how they will vote for Horse of the Year and what they think of people who vote otherwise. There is a rabid Republican/Tea Party tone to Blame's supporters, demanding a literal reading of both the Constitution and the Old Testament, while Zenyatta's backers seem fraught with Democratic equivocation, conceding points to the other side. One noted columnist splits the electorate neatly into the rational and the irrational -- based upon his calculus -- which I think applies more accurately to a broader cultural theme. As matters of life and death go, the nag we end up calling Horse of the Year hardly qualifies as political game changer, and we can probably spend our rational moments solving greater problems. Let's hear it for the irrational, as long as it does no harm.

In an attempt at fairness, there will be no campaigning from me. My conflict of interest begins at home since my daughter, a rabid Zenyattista, got her photo snapped feeding a handful of grass to the Big Mare after her victory in the Vanity Handicap, and the Mosses have put the image on a kid's T-shirt they are selling for charity. I'm told it's cute.

Still, it is fun trying to predict the outcome. Zenyatta received 99 votes last year in the face of Rachel Alexandra, a compelling Horse of the Year candidate, who ended up with 130 votes and the crown. Of Zenyatta's 99, there were a smattering of protest votes against the heavy-handed boosterism of Jess Jackson, Rachel's proud owner. But for the most part exit polls indicated that Zenyatta's votes were cast with a positive attitude -- not a "vote against" -- although by exit polls I mean my drunken button-holing of dignitaries at the cocktail party after the awards ceremony had ended, which was attended by relatively few actual Eclipse Award voters. I never said it was scientific.

As a result, Zenyatta goes into the 2010 Horse of the Year contest with a loyal voting bloc in place. There could be some erosion in Zenyatta's support based on the stark results of the 2010 Breeders'  Cup Classic, in which Blame beat her by a head. At the same time, Blame enters consideration this year at the same angle Zenyatta entered last year's Eclipse contest -- he needed to win the race to be considered at all, just as Zenyatta's support for 2009 Horse of the Year went from pretty much zero to 99 between the quarter pole and the finish of the '09 Breeder's Cup Classic. 

Any championship, if it is to be taken seriously, should be based on a hard, testing grind, not a single gunfight. But the Breeders' Cup, for all its carnival excitement, has served to hopelessly change the rules by which both rational and irrational minds once came to choose the Horse of the Year. The idea that one race meant everything was scorned, unless it was a race like, say, the 1957 Trenton Handicap, pitting Bold Ruler, Round Table and Gallant Man, or the 1967 Woodward, which assembled Damascus, Buckpasser and Dr. Fager. In one mix or another, those horses had met before and proved their relative worth, requiring a final race of resolution.

By contrast, in 27 runnings the Breeders' Cup Classic has provided such a resolution of ongoing conflict only twice -- in 2007 when the season-long dramatics of Curlin, Street Sense, Hard Spun and Any Given Saturday came to a head in the slop of Monmouth, and in 1989, when Sunday Silence and Easy Goer brought their personal feud to an end at Gulfstream Park.

As for this year's contenders, I know this sounds weird, but there is a possibility some people might be getting their 4-year-old male horses confused. You remember Quality Road, the second coming of Bucephalus, based largely upon his total domination of Dry Martini and Delightful Kiss in the Donn Handicap last February, in which he recorded a Bernie Madoff Speed Figure of 2,309,119.6, adjusted for haze. At that point, Horse of the Year was his to lose. Neither Rachel Alexandra nor Zenyatta had poked their noses out of the girls' side of the club house yet and Blame was still recovering from Mardi Gras. Never mind that it took Quality Road 114 days to recover enough from the Donn to run again. He was still the uncrowned Horse of the Year. Then Blame came along and beat him in the Whitney (getting five pounds, by the way), and the QR crowd jumped ship, poor guy.

If Blame and Quality Road were the same horse they would have a 2010 that looked more like the champion mature males of old -- warriors like Tom Fool, Dr. Fager, Ack Ack, Affirmed, Spectacular Bid, Alysheba, Criminal Type, Cigar and, more recently, Mineshaft. Between them Blame-Road campaigned from Jan. 3 to Nov. 6, winning the Donn, the Met Mile, the Foster, the Whitney, the Woodward and the Breeders' Cup Classic, a rocking good record, the likes we'll probably never see again until the next great gelding appears.

Good luck then, to the 247, and to them I will offer only this admittedly prejudiced observation, having witnessed at fortunate close hand the phenomenon of Zenyatta these past three years with a mix of wonder and frustration -- wonder at what she achieve and frustration that she was not asked to do more. Space travel, for instance. Or Dancing With the Stars:

Horse of the Year may be too small a recognition for her impact, both on track and off, in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Unfortunately, there is no other award out there, and please do not cite the delayed gratification of the Hall of Fame. This may be one of those rare cases when, if it goes Zenyatta's way, the horse makes the award look good, instead of the other way around.


david griego More than 1 year ago
someone made a comment to my post about goldikova beating gio ponti by 1 1/2 lengths compared to zenyattas 1 length... let me state zenyatta is without a doubt a faster horse than goldikova . he had a 5 length lead and zenyatta left him in the dust goldikova got the jump on gio ponti 1 1/2 length and did not lengthen her lead zenyatta is so good she only has to run the top of the stretch next time a horse wins 19 in a row and runs 40 mph at the end of a race and has a 26 foot stride is 17.2 hands breaks the world record for grade 1 wins in a row wins 2 different breeder cups at 2 distances and loses by a half a head in a third because she didnt have the room 2 run.. blame got to change his lead about 11 strides b4 she changed hers . has all the jockeys trainers past n present in awe of her let me know. zenyatta is one of the greatest horses ever ! if greatness slaped you in the face you wouldnt know it! and it just slapped you!!! zenyatta is an all time great horse! blame rachel curlin great horses give me a break ! goldikova yes but not as great as zenyatta
Jonni Mae More than 1 year ago
Great Horses Retire with Records Like 19-1, 23-4 etc. If a Horse lost Five races or more and you only run for two years your'e not great. Curlin was not great, most of his classmen retired. most of them finished in front of him. Darley bought half of 'em. Curlin stayed around. and Curlin can run of Poly. He just got passed by to Normal Three year olds. I doubt if Curlin Couldv'e handled Big Brown. Oh Yeah Big Brown had one Lost .....
provides access More than 1 year ago
Hey! Just thought I’d chime in. I really enjoyed your post. Keep up the awesome effort.
Djohnson More than 1 year ago
I keep reading comments that Zenyatta's record didn't live up to Rachael Alexandra's....or Blame's. Once again as Silkysullivan says....racing is shooting itself in the foot. Zenyatta has brought racing back to the front page....Oprah's list, W magazine, Top Female Athletes of Sports Illustrated and every newspaper in America. I did not see that happen with Rachael and I do not see it happening with Blame. Blame is just a horse who had a good year. So, if that makes him Horse of the Year 2010...vote for the damn horse and we will forget him, just like we have forgotten RA. But, there is no forgetting Zenyatta, and her performances will live on. Giving Team Zenyatta a special Eclipse Award does not make it okay not to give Zenyatta Horse of the Year. She has earned it....Horse of the last 3 Years. Wake up racing world.....you are dying here.
blackseabass More than 1 year ago
SMTDL , RA did not win more gr.1's than Zenyatta . Summer Bird NEVER dominated older horses. CURLIN NEVER DOMINATED ANYTHING. He got beat on grass by OLD HORSES that barely had 3 legs and got passed in the lane by Zenyatta's understudy Tiago. He couldn't beat a 3yr old filly in the Belmont. His signature win was a BC Classic run in a monsoon over a sloppy track vs. a miler Lawyer Ron and the journeyman Awesome Gem. CURTV , you should give up on the ZENYATTA was ducking RA stuff . It makes you look silly when everyone else in this world knows it was the opposite. I like you big fella thats why I gave you 1/2 of UNCLE MO in the MKB.
Virgil More than 1 year ago
Sports Illustrated Top 10 Female Racehorses of All Time: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/multimedia/photo_gallery/1011/top-10-female-race-horses-all-time/content.10.html
SMTDL More than 1 year ago
Zenyatta's amazing lifetime record just didn't measure up to her main competitors each individual year.That's a shame but just a fact, if you throw out popularity and sentiment.Many who claimed last year that she deserved HOTY because she won the BCC against males tho just 5 races total.Rachel ALexandra won 8 races, more grade 1's ,with 3 grade 1's against males.Everything she did was on dirt.Everything Zenyatta did was on synthetics.Zenyatta actually had a somewhat better case againt Curlin the year before but Curlin ran against top males everywhere,on dirt and grass ;while Zenyatta didn't races males at all but was undefeated. The history of HOTY is not so fuzzy as for as criteria like some are now claiming.You have to look at who won it against what their competition did THAT YEAR!!! Is it a coincidence that older males or 3 yo males have been HOTY 90% of the time ( that's a guess ..I supect it is actually a higher %)? Of course not.These are the two toughest divisions and often 3yo males win or even dominate the older males.Curlin,Summer Bird and Rachel Alexandra did this the last few years. That Zenyatta won a classic distance race against males put her on par or maybe ahead of Rachel's Preakness against 3yo males ,but for good measure the 3yo filly won twice more against males( including older males) in back to back races. Why didn't Zenyatta race more than once against males in 2009 or 2010?Why never in back to back races or on on 2 weeks rest.? Why repeat that same formula again in 2010 when it's obvious that the major competition will be from the older males.? A go in the Goodwood instead of Lady's Secret might have done it ? Maybe the Hollywood Gold Cup or Pacific Classic instead of the Hirsch or Vanity.The Zen Team chose not to challenge her that way and put all the eggs in the BC basket but lost this time.How is that deserving over Blame who didn't get to challenge Made for Magic,Jessica is Back,Switch,Rintervale,Zardana,St Trinian's,etc. and who actually beat Zenyatta when they met.Zenyatta is deserving of many accollades (i.e. - one of the best female racers ever) but not HOTY 2010.
silky sullivan More than 1 year ago
I sit here reading the impassioned opinions for HOY and keep thinking, maybe there really is a parallel universe. Are we all nuts? Racing as we know and love it is dying before our eyes. 99.9% of people don't know a furlong from a donut and don't care. Along comes this beautiful, special, one-for-the-ages creature, and what do we do? Well, we do what we always do......shoot ourselves in the foot. We cart out every crackpot, cranky, esoteric, pointy-headed reason NOT to acknowledge this very special gift to racing. If she is NOT proclaimed HOY than I'm afraid racing's future really is a lost cause.
Del More than 1 year ago
I think you're right on Mr Sullivan. I've gone to three tracks for live racing and visited Atlantic City for simulcast betting. Who is the diehard, typical patron of these tracks? First of all I would say that person would definitely be male. Probably at least 90 percent on average. That guy is usually cranky, and pointy-headed. What's missing. Young adults, women, vitality, a balanced demographic. Zenyatta drew those folks as well as more men too.
Qev More than 1 year ago
@blackseabass: You reek of desperation…resorting to a horse’s entire career to try and bolster one lackluster season…a lackluster season that happens to be the one valid point of reference in regards to this debate. You seem the statistically studious type, try researching the number of **OPEN** (This means unrestricted by sex or age, etc.) Graded stakes winners and the number of wins they’d chalked up between them that Zenyatta has faced and beaten in 2010 as opposed to Blame. And, when you calculate Blame’s scalps, don’t forget to include Zenyatta…oh, that’s right, never mind, she has no open stakes victories during the year in question…zero…zilch…nada, has she? You say that Blame was beaten or nearly beaten by horses that Zenyatta "pounded". During the year in question, Blame was beaten by exactly one horse in the four top level races that he competed in; Haynesfield, and, as we all know, he came back to beat that one (and Zenyatta) home when it mattered. And, since when does “nearly beaten” matter to Z-natics…if that aint the pot calling the kettle black…"nearly beaten"...really? You ask how many stakes winners and GR.I winners has Blame "beat", and go on to suggest that I include “the 17 and 14 that Zenyatta accounts for.” How about not? How about I don’t include horses that Blame has never even faced, as (his) victories simply because he has beaten a horse that has, at some point, beaten those horses. This is a tactic that is commonly used by Z-natics as a desperate measure to bolster a weak resume. Blame doesn’t need it. You ask “how many horses have finished in front of Zenyatta and by how many lengths?” Exactly one horse has finished in front of her, and that is the, obviously deserving, 2010 HOY recipient—Blame, and, again, since when does beaten lengths matter to Z supporters…oh, that’s right…all of a sudden they matter…since she’s been beaten. Typical. You say that “Zenyatta has more gr.I wins than Blame has starts. Lol.” Really, How many *Open*, *Unrestricted*(you know, the ones that count) gr.I wins does she have compared to Blame? (LOL.) Yours is a clever attempt (sneaky, but clever) to re-frame the debate into which is the better horse, intrinsically—but it doesn’t stick. The fact is that this is a debate about which of these two horses has accomplished enough (on the track) during the current year (2010) to merit being awarded the 2010 Horse of the >>YEAR
Curt V. More than 1 year ago
Qev, That Blackseabass{BSB} is one hell of a fisherman though. Between his fish stories & his twisting of Restricted {R} races, but no mention of the {F} designation, he has got more Twists & Turns, than a box of baked Hanover Pretzels........ Of course he omits by choice, that the big girl in '10 defeated exactly {0} ZERO, G1 winners, prior BCC. Of course nobody wanted to face her, he'll opine, but hold back that nobody really wanted to run on PLASTIC for the most part. Times mean nothing of course. Dirt was her most preferred surface, of course until she lost. & last year he forgot to remember, that Jerry DUCKED Rachel in New York, repeatedly.....& then since it's a foregone conclusion, of course, the HOY award that Jerry refused to allow the horse to earn, is totally meaningless, of course. Other than that..It's all Blame's Fault........this year....ad nauseum.......Having said all that, I still believe if Jerry had let the Big Girl loose during the year, the horse herself, Zenyatta, would have taken care of business. & Kram, my friend, I've got Secretariat up there..Right behind Seattle Slew & Dr. Fager....... Happy Holidays, to you Jay & family.........