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Perhaps one of the most presumptuous things a racing writer can do is tell owners where to run their horses. But that hasn't stopped me from doing it before, and it won't stop me from doing it again. I might be a horseplayer at heart, but I am also a passionate racing fan with strong beliefs about where name horses should race so that they can clarify where they belong in an historical context. My intent is noble (honestly!), although though my clumsiness might hide that well.
Even though her place in racing history has been secure for a while now, I would dearly love to have last call on Zenyatta's near-term schedule. I just read Steve Andersen's report that a final decision on Zenyatta's scheduled start in Saturday's Clement L. Hirsch at Del Mar will be made after the mare trains over the Del Mar surface Thursday and Friday. With this tiny bit of wiggle room, I think the door is still slightly open for a great opportunity:
Why doesn't Zenyatta pass on her attempt at winning the Hirsch for a third straight year on a surface her people say she isn't especially fond of anyway, and come to Saratoga and meet Rachel Alexandra on Aug. 29 in the 1 1/4 mile Personal Ensign?
I understand that Zenyatta might not be the greatest shipper ever, but the detention barns at NYRA are gone now, and there has been talk of Zenyatta coming to New York anyway, just later in the Oct. 2 Beldame, so a road trip doesn't seem out of the question. I also understand that if Zenyatta were to run in the Personal Ensign, it would leave her only four weeks until what would likely be her final Breeders' Cup prep in either the Beldame or the Zenyatta Breeders' Cup (formerly the Lady's Secret).
But what Zenyatta has to gain by going to Saratoga seem to far outweigh any disadvantages there might be. For one, she would finally get to race against Personal Ensign-bound Rachel Alexandra, and this seems like an excellent time to do that. Even though Rachel Alexandra has won her last two starts, her performances were only good, not great. Zenyatta has a golden opportunity here, right now, to extract a not-so-small measure of revenge for losing that much discussed Horse of the Year vote last year to Rachel Alexandra. And if Zenyatta coming for the Personal Ensign makes Rachel Alexandra suddenly change her schedule, well, that would be a big public relations win for Zenyatta. Moreover, Zenyatta would get to peform not just for a New York audience, but for a Saratoga audience. That would be a meaningful addition to her imposing legacy.
So why not?
I want to start off saying that I am a huge racing fan (of the horses, not the betting so much). I find myself getting more and more frustrated with racing and Zenyatta's connections. They promised a great campaign for the mare, shipping around the country for this year so that people can appreciate her. Where is that campaign? I am located on the east coast (which apparently makes me biased??) and I cannot justify spending several hundred on a plane ticket just to see her run (either in Cali or in the Apple Blossom). I had been planning on going to see her and Rachel (individually or separately) race anywhere within the NY/NJ area (maybe even a little farther south) this summer/fall, but I find myself bitterly disappointed in Zenyatta's lack of travel. Fan's should not have to fly across the country to see their stars running, especially when the connections promised a true campaign this year. Everyone is arguing that Zenyatta should not have to ship because Rachel is 'washed up' or 'ducked her already' or because she is a West coast horse that 'does not need to prove herself against the east coast competition'. How about Zenyatta should travel so that she can be appreciated by her fans on the east coast who cannot afford (or have the vacation time) to travel to CA or KY? I thought that the biggest thing needed in racing is the fans....apparently her connections forgot that in their desire to stay perfect. At least I got see Cigar during his campaign (and I was 10 at the time.....) I am disappointed and find that maybe some of the apparent 'east coast bias' is due to the anger of fans on the east coast being denied of their opportunity to see their favorites race horses race somewhere closer than a thousand miles away (and KY is a 14 hour drive from the northeast...)
Mike, Who is the best horse in training now? I wouldn't expect you to respond to a comment regarding a column, but any insight on this BLOG regarding the current status of ranking the top horses would be interesting to hear.
I don't get the whole Rachel thing. Sure she beat the boys in the Preakness. The older males she beat later in the summer were 2nd rate. Her connections held her out of the BC and she's HOTY? Nice season no doubt but HOTY? The Big Girl won the BC and traveled east this spring but Jess ducked out. No doubt a nice horse but certainly not one of the greats. The way she's been handled this year running against much lesser. Shameful. Horse racing deserves what it gets. Too bad cause I'm a huge fan. As for the Moss's, thanks for letting her run this year. Too bad much of the rest of the industry don't share your understanding of star quality.
I can understand and respect John Shireff's conservatism with respect to Zenyatta's racing career. After all, he did accomplish quite a bit with that fantastic mare. And hindsight is 20/20. If he had been more aggressive with her, would she have won the Ladies Breeder's Cup Classic in 2008 and the Breeder's Cup Classic in 2009. Would she have racked up 17 consecutive wins, which are mostly grade 1's. Would she still be racing past her sixth birthday? As a fan, I wouldn't mind seeing her race ANYWHERE besides Del Mar. Almost everything seems wrong about this race. I may even commit ultimate blasphemy and make a value bet against her--with the knowledge that she'll probably win and deserves to be odds on favorite despite the circumstances. But if Anabaa's Creation can almost sneak a victory (on a somewhat lackluster ride from Mike Smith), why couldn't Rinterval, Made for Magic, or Dance to my Tune? I don't want to see Zenyatta lose due to an inconsistent, defective track that in 2007 produced 1 1/4 mile times of 2:07 or worse. If Team Zenyatta is going to test fate, I'd rather see it happen on a fair track against tough opposition. Heck, I would feel better seeing her race on Del Mar's turf than the polytrack; at least it would be incredibly entertaining and a loss would be understandable. She doesn't need to run up her winning streak anymore. If anything, they should ship her out east and have her get acclimated to a new setting. After all, we're told she doesn't ship well and observers have noted she lost an inordinate amount of weight after Oaklawn. We're also told that she had things too easy until facing off against St. Trinians (one of the best synthetic track mares in the country and a really gutsy competitor IMHO). Both Smith and Shirreff's have conceded she's in tip-top shape, and that race contributed to her fitness rather than undermining it. Her workout times have rebounded nicely from what they were before the Vanity and she's gained some weight. I understand the need to exploit her conditioning and keep her on a strict training routine. Although Shirreff's argues there's no other comparable race that makes sense, I think he's not looking hard enough. I fail to see the upside to racing Zenyatta on a track so obviously ill-suited to her talents; the surface is volatile, the home stretch is too short, and the race length is too short at 8.5 furlongs. He has a valuable asset, and if need be, he can negotiate his way into the equivalent of Rachel Alexandra's Ladies Secret. But unfortunately, I imagine they'd enter Zenyatta into this race if she took on 140lbs while racing on banana peels. My personal sense is that they want to support Del Mar and more importantly, California racing. Perhaps I'm being cynical, but at least I haven't lost any faith in Zenyatta. This fearless and spirited performer will be a winner even if she loses.
It should be clear to anyone that Jerry Moss cares more about a meaningless winning streak than facing top competition. The turf writers should severely punish him by not only not voting for Zenyatta for Horse of the Year, but also Older Female. It's a disgrace.
The idea to try Zenyatta on the turf has been on my mind for some time. I think the GI Flower Bowl might be a good spot. Heck, they let Secretariat try the turf before he retired. I personally don't think there is a horse that can beat her on any surface. The ease in which she wins is very deceptive. She has never really been asked to run.
I couldn't agree more with Mike. The Personal Ensign at Saratoga is right in Zenyatta's wheelhouse on so many levels. There is no female horse in the world that can beat her on dirt at a mile and a quarter. That combined with the chance to race in NY against Rachel at a point in the season where she has ample time to get geared back up for the Breeders Cup is pretty much the perfect scenerio. Shipping her to Belmont in early October to me seems like a big mistake for a horse that is so used to her sorroundings at Hollywood Park and doesn't ship as often as other horses do. Let her last race in California be her Breeders Cup prep at Santa Anita in either the Zenyatta or the Goodwood, and send her to Saratoga for this next race. As a So.Cal fan and a huge Zenyatta fan this schedule would be the best for not only her legacy but also the industry at large. Horse racing needs this match up!
I like the idea a lot of Z in the Arlington Million, and previously mentioned that race as one I'd be seriously looking at (or the Beverly D on the same card). That fits into what I'd be looking at doing with Z to show she's a real champion.
Absolutely Mike!!! Send her to Belmont run her in the P.E. and the Beldame, then ship to Churchill win the BCC and then finish off her career with a win in the Dubai World Cup!!
What happened to the Z camp? Weren't they saying that her returned will be different. Lots of travel around the country. Showcase her. Now running at the track they claim she hates Not your typical Jerry Moss or John Shirreffs move. I know, its their horse and they decide when and where to run.