01/11/2010 1:00AM

Zenyatta's status not so clear

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Barbara D. Livingston
Zenyatta's recent workouts suggest to some that her life as a broodmare may come later than assumed.

NEW YORK - Despite denials on the part of her connections that they are reconsidering, some folks just won't believe that Zenyatta has retired to be a broodmare until she has actually been shipped to Kentucky and bred to a stallion. And even then, Zenyatta could come back and race while pregnant. Lots of mares race while in foal, although it would be rare for a standout racehorse like Zenyatta. But hey, that could just be another way for the remarkable Zenyatta to distinguish herself. Right?

In reality, there are logical explanations for her three half-mile workouts at Hollywood Park since what was announced as the last race of her career, a victory over males in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Racehorses don't just stop working when their racing careers are over. They have to be wound down from peak training regimens, otherwise it would be tough to keep these high-strung animals on the ground, and it could increase the chance for injury. And in Zenyatta's case, it makes total sense that she would have two half-mile breezes between her retirement ceremonies at Hollywood on Nov. 29 and on opening day at Santa Anita on Dec. 26. Obviously, her people would want her to look good and fit for that public display.

It also makes sense that Zenyatta hasn't yet left California for Kentucky. It has been very cold in Kentucky.

Then again, at a time when the racing isn't serious enough yet to preclude a distraction or two, it's fun to play conspiracy theorist here and speculate about what's going on with Zenyatta.

Yes, it has been cold in Kentucky. But by all accounts, arrangements to send Zenyatta to Kentucky have not been made. If Zenyatta is going to be a Kentucky broodmare, she's going to have to get used to the cold sooner or later.

It also feels a bit funny that a stallion to breed to Zenyatta hasn't been named yet. There is no rush, and Zenyatta commands such respect that she could certainly be bred to any stallion her people would want. But it's hard to envision that Zenyatta's people haven't known for a long time exactly which stallion they want to breed their great mare to. So, why the secrecy?

As for Zenyatta's recent works, the explanation for why she went as quickly as she did last Wednesday (a half-mile in 48 seconds) was that she had a substitute exercise rider. Still, it's interesting to note that Zenyatta's recent workouts - two breezing half-mile workouts followed by a handy half-mile move - have a striking parallel to the first three published works Zenyatta had in 2009, when she trained her way back to racing fitness. They were also half-mile moves, the first two breezing and the third handily.

Late last week, there was an intriguing line of speculation that had Zenyatta engaging in morning workouts because she was going to be nominated to the Dubai World Cup, which this year will be run on a synthetic surface - Zenyatta is certainly familiar with those - at Meydan and which this year boasts a purse of $10 million.

The speculation had it that if Zenyatta won the Dubai World Cup, the winner's share of $6 million would elevate her career earnings past $11 million. So, if Zenyatta won the Dubai Cup, she would surpass Curlin as North America's highest-earning horse. This would also add an interesting layer to the competition between the Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra camps. Don't forget, Jess Jackson, who owns Rachel Alexandra, also raced Curlin.

Moreover, pointing Zenyatta to the Dubai World Cup, which will be run on March 27, doesn't necessarily commit her to a full 2010 campaign. She could retire after that race and be bred in April. That means she would be expected to deliver the following March, which is not that late for foal to be born.

Another line of speculation had it that Zenyatta's status will be determined by the outcome of the vote for 2009 Horse of the Year, which will be announced at the Eclipse Awards dinner this coming Monday. If Zenyatta outpolls Rachel Alexandra, then her camp would simply reiterate that she is retired. But if Rachel Alexandra wins Horse of the Year, then Zenyatta's people might announce that she does have unfinished business on the track.

Of course, this is all speculation, perhaps more fitting for an Oliver Stone movie. But in a sense, Zenyatta's people have left the door open to this sort of speculation. If they came out and said unequivocally, "Zenyatta will never race again," that would be it. But I have looked high and low on the Internet, and I can't find anything more definitive than Zenyatta's camp saying right after the Breeders' Cup that the Classic was "likely" the last race for their great mare. That leaves a lot of wiggle room. Even the response to the most recent query of whether Zenyatta's retirement was being rethought, that "nothing has changed" - well, that suggests that in the future things could indeed change.