11/13/2009 1:00AM

Letters to the Editor


Zenyatta's triumph should win laurels by acclamation

For those of us not old enough to have witnessed Secretariat, Ruffian, Seabiscuit, Affirmed, or others in the pantheon of great racehorses, we were treated to our own show of equine excellence last Saturday.

It was clear from the moment Zenyatta was led to the saddling ring that she was there to put on, as Trevor Denman called it, an "Un-be-lievable performance." She trotted in behind the boys before being saddled, she posed for pictures both in the paddock and on the track, she showed us her beautiful strut before and during the race. And then, as if she had merely walked the first mile, Zenyatta put in a closing move that will not be forgotten as long as horse racing stories are told. She dispatched the winners of the Kentucky Derby, Belmont, Travers, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Arlington Million, Pacific Classic, Santa Anita Handicap, Super Derby, and Champion Stakes with such ease that no one should ever question her heart, ability, or place in history ever again.

The sound of the 58,000-plus crowd cheering, screaming, and crying as Zenyatta came home is still ringing in my ears. She was clearly the Horse of the Year to those of us in attendance. Let's just hope that same sound rings in the ears of those who will soon cast their votes for the Eclipse Award as Horse of the Year.

Richard Ilharreguy - Sacramento, Calif.

Rachel's year trumps one big day

The argument that Zenyatta deserves Horse of the Year over Rachel Alexandra is a losing proposition.

My, how quickly we forget. Didn't Rachel win the Kentucky Oaks by more than 20 lengths? Wasn't this the largest winning margin in the history of the race?

Didn't she then proceed to beat the top 3-year-old males in the Preakness, even winning from the dreaded 13-hole?

And didn't she follow that up by setting a stakes record in the Mother Goose at Belmont, again winning by the largest margin ever?

Next? She took on the boys again at Monmouth in the Haskell and won that by a rousing six lengths.

Was she done? Not yet. She then took on older male handicap horses, at the height of the season, and defeated them at Saratoga in the Woodward Stakes. Wasn't she the first filly ever to ever win that storied race?

Her year: Eight starts, eight wins - including five Grade 1's - over seven different tracks.

Before last week's Breeders' Cup Classic, Zenyatta had stayed in the comforts of her own California backyard, while winning three Grade 1's and a Grade 2 over the same group of overmatched fillies. She didn't even race until the end of May, and she ran over artificial racing surfaces every time.

Even her win in the Classic was a questionable achievement. She had the biggest home-field advantage, perhaps, in the history of racing. Any dirt horse coming from the East had virtually no chance on Santa Anita's turf-like track. Also, the horses coming from Europe, although turf horses, were still at a huge disadvantage. After all, they did have to travel halfway around the world and run over a foreign, artificial racing surface for the first time.

In 2009, Rachel Alexandra was truly challenged on several occasions. She resoundingly proved her mettle each and every time. Respectfully, Zenyatta did it exactly once. Rachel's many accomplishments far outshine those of Zenyatta.

Last week, Zenyatta was indeed Queen for a Day. But Rachel Alexandra is Horse of the Year.

Jerry Hauck - Studio City, Calif.

Mare hit home run in bottom of ninth

Even days since last Saturday's running of the Breeders' Cup Classic, I still find myself needing my fix of Zenyatta. Every day since then I have been compelled to watch the video replay of her spectacular race as if I were watching it for the first time.

I haven't been this moved to write a letter to or about an athlete since the fourth grade when I ran down the hill from Sacred Heart School in Tarentum, Pa., arriving at home in time to see Bill Mazeroski loft a fly ball over the left field wall in Forbes Field to win the 1960 World Series for the hometown Bucs.

God willing, next year I will begin the fifth decade in which l have plied my trade as a racing secretary. During that time I have watched many races, both live and simulcast. There is a tendency to become immune to racing when you are around it every day, which can cause you to lose your appreciation of it. Then, along comes a race like the 2009 Classic, and we are all reminded why we are still in this business. It is because racing can produce moments like this. It is one of the reasons that horsemen and struggling track owners fight to keep the doors open. They know when racing is done right it can be a special sport.

For those who were fortunate enough to be at Santa Anita that day, and the rest of us who viewed it on television, we all will be able to say we witnessed one of the best racehorses of all time during her greatest moment. Hats off to Zenyatta and her connections for a wonderful show.

Allan Plever - Pinnacle Race Course

Easterners appear to be shortsighted

As a longtime fan of horse racing based mostly out of California, I feel that there continues to be a definite bias against West Coast horses by East Coast handicappers. I have witnessed many champion race horses come West - namely Kelso, Cigar, and Buckpasser - who were welcomed by fans simply because they were great animals and this is, after all, a sport. But after reading the opinions of Steven Crist ("Five solid spots to beat chalk," Nov. 7) and Andrew Beyer ("Toss the dirt runners - and Zenyatta," Nov. 7) regarding Zenyatta, I am further convinced that Easterners will take any opportunity to criticize our West Coast horses and try to diminish their accomplishments.

Zenyatta is a great racemare, and she proved it on the track. I hope Horse of the Year voters realize it as well. Being at the track last Saturday proved to me that she is a true champion in spite of a bunch of talking heads who can't see pass their discrimination.

Dwight Frey - Chico, Calif.

Classic effort had special touch

Zenyatta: Boy, did she run.

She ran for us, the too-big, chunky, but determined older girls who are always beautiful on the inside and will never grace the pages of Vogue magazine.

She ran for them: Ruffian, Go for Wand, Eight Belles - all of that brilliance and fire and destruction, somehow coming full circle in a race for the ages, a performance that moved a crowd of thousands, and touched my heart.

Kathy Vespaziani - Weymouth, Mass.

Acclaim has whiff of home cooking

Reading Jay Hovdey's Nov. 11 post-Breeders' Cup Classic column, "Music to a racing fan's ears," reminded me of the effusive enthusiasm local sports writers use when describing a University of Southern California football victory over a visiting Notre Dame team.

Zenyatta was fabulous, and ran a remarkable race against a field of high-quality competition. She has proven herself, once again, to be the synthetic Horse of the Year. She may also lay claim to being the California Horse of the Year, and is definitely the Mare of the Year. But until she leaves the comfy surroundings of home and travels to another venue to win a meaningful race, on a surface other than one legislated by the horsemen of California, let Mr. Hovdey dance to whatever tune Mike Smith can sing.

Harvey Hochberg - Delray Beach, Fla.

A true heavyweight from the West Coast

I am glad to know Muhammad Ali is still around. But if he were gone, I would suspect he had been reincarnated as, you guessed it, Zenyatta. When she comes on the track she does the Ali shuffle, hams it up for the crowd, and then ultimately backs it up with a resounding victory. She was like the fighter who got no respect until she destroyed the elites in the BC Classic.

Zenyatta did it with guts, determination, and talent to win racing's biggest race. To deprive her of Horse of the Year would be a racing sin. The Eastern turf writers don't like her numbers compared with those of Rachel Alexandra. The purpose of a horse race, though, is to win, not set track records. As for the argument that Zenyatta had merely beaten up on the same Southern California horses before the Classic, we saw what her stablemate Life Is Sweet did in the Ladies' Classic.

A great racing philosopher once said, "Don't ever underestimate an undefeated horse." It is not luck that Zenyatta retires with 14 consecutive victories.

The Classic field was one of the best in years, and she blew by them all. This is not college football: Every leading contender had a chance to run for the championship. I guess the only thing Zenyatta cannot do is speak. If she were able to say four words, I know what they would be: "I am the Greatest."

Jonathan Kaufman - Boynton Beach, Fla.

One just solution: Double coronation

Horse of the Year really should not be a debate. Horsepeople, racing fans, and the world should cherish the great racing provided by Rachel Alexander and Zenyatta. In 2009, those two horses and their respective teams should be rewarded with a co-Horse of the Year award. They deserve nothing less.

Rachel Alexander and Zenyatta are the best hope to give the industry the boost it so desperately needs. It's imperative for our racetracks and all the various branches of racing to donate their time, energy, and resources to unite and make an easy decision to name these wonderful horses as co-Horses of the Year. How could we possibly deny either Rachel Alexander or Zenyatta the award? Racing needs stars and an industry smart enough to promote them.

Rachel Alexander and Zenyatta enriched racing with such determination and grace that we must show unity and strength in honoring them jointly.

Michael T. D'Angelo - Delray Beach, Fla.

Cup weekend gave cause to reflect

Breeders' Cup weekend has come and gone, and here are some observations from a man with a passion for the sport:

Santa Anita is a lovely place, but having any track host this event two years in a row is a big mistake.

The issue of synthetics can be debated ad infinitum, but perhaps the most damnable aspect of the fake stuff is the acrimony it has caused within the industry. We are now faced with the unfortunate and unnecessary reality of a "synthetics division" of racers, which has made decisions like Horse of the Year even more difficult.

For example, as remarkable as Zenyatta's season has been, a legitimate case can be made that she is a synthetic racer. That she raced nowhere but the West Coast all year is at least as damaging to her cause as staying away from the Breeders' Cup is to Rachel Alexandra's.

Also unfortunate is the insistence of the people who run the Breeders' Cup to use the term "Dirt Mile," when anyone who knows anything about the game knows that the makeup of the race would have been a lot different had it actually been contested on dirt.

One of the races I am really glad to see added is the Marathon. There was a time when Thoroughbred racing was really concerned about the improvement of the breed. For many years, the best horses were always considered to be the ones who could race often over a long period of time at a high level, could win over a distance of ground, and could carry high weight successfully.We rarely ask today's horses to accomplish any of these tasks, and the breed has suffered as a result.

The fact that the Marathon has yet to achieve graded status is indicative of how far we have strayed form our ideals. Still, the very existence of the race lends hope to those of us who would like to see the sport reclaim some of its traditional values.

Timothy Vana - Des Plaines, Ill.