Nov 10, 2010
Zenyatta Retires After First Lost of Career
So, there's a lot of chatter on the various boards and news sites about Zenyatta's second-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic. The majority of people all appear to take the position that the mare proved herself worthy in the end. That it was a stroke of bad luck, that she just made her move a bit too late and had she been afforded a few extra seconds, she'd have won handily. And you know what? I'm not going to argue that point. It's quite possibly true. She's clearly an ultra-talented horse, a horse deserving of most of the accolades thrown her way. She may well have won had the finish line been but a few strides farther. But I find it really hard to believe that people are using this near-miss as some sort of proof of her worth. Yes, she is a great mare. She has had a far longer career than most racehorses and until a few days ago she'd never lost a race. On paper those are amazing facts for any horse until you consider that all of the 19 races prior to this most recent Breeders' Cup Classic took place solely in California and that she was only pitted against males once at the 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic. Of course she won that day and that should have been the start of a brilliant 2010 campaign. Yet her owners and trainers wasted the year running her against the usual female suspects back in California. I couldn't possibly conceive of a more poorly-concocted season.
Let me take a moment to clarify -- I don't begrudge the mare her fans, her legacy, her talent even. If it seems that way, it's only because I am greatly frustrated by her entourage. They had the opportunity to put Zenyatta to the test, to toughen her up and provide her with some real challenges. Every year we bemoan the lack of great racehorses, and when one comes along we coddle her. I don't know of another way to say this, but that Zenyatta is an extraordinary horse, but one that we never truly saw the best of.
There was no reason that Zenyatta had to admit defeat Saturday. Had she been more accustomed to dirt tracks (the dirt spraying in her face) and the challenges of running against colts, she would at least have had a fighting chance. Instead they babied her and rested on their laurels, announcing her retirement even before the Classic was run. So, no, I don't see her second-place finish as proof of her worth. I see it as proof that she was mis-managed and never really reached the apex of her talent. And why is she being retired?! Just to prevent losing face after the premature retirement announcement. Because the mare clearly isn't done running yet.
Without making this a Zenyatta v. Rachel Alexandra stand-off, I just want to point out that Rachel's handlers managed her impeccably. They pushed her to the brink, even when she started to falter. Sure, she could have entered the 2009 Breeder's Cup Classic. That would have been the icing on the cake, but she really didn't have any more to prove. Zenyatta, on the other hand, was just as (perhaps more) talented, but was pushed only ever once or twice in her career, before retiring with a nearly blemish-free record. What's the point? Sure, no one likes a loser, but time will dull the losses and history books will keep the memory alive of great horses. What I'll remember is the arrogance of Zenyatta's owners and trainer and that will always (unfortunately) leave a bitter taste in my mouth when I recall this first and final loss.