Zenyatta still crowd pleaser
She makes mark despite defeat
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Zenyatta pricked her ears and raised her head high, no longer undefeated after a narrow loss in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but still beloved by her fans and handlers.
“She won everybody’s hearts,’’ an onlooker told his companion outside her
Whether she wins Horse of the Year is another issue.
Blame got a head in front of Zenyatta at the finish line of Saturday night’s 1 1/4-mile Classic, briefly silencing the 72,739 fans who had celebrated the superstar they hoped would end her career with a 20-0 record.
“It was a fairy tale and it didn’t end the way everybody wanted it to end,’’ her trainer John Shirreffs said yesterday. “That’s what I feel badly about. However, Zenyatta is pretty happy out there and she will be happy.’’
Several yards away, Zenyatta nibbled on frost-covered grass dotted by golden fall leaves while about 50 fans poked their hands and cameras through a steel fence to get close to her. One woman held up a hand-lettered sign reading, “Zenyatta You Rock.’’ Another woman chanted, “We want Horse of the Year.’’
So does Shirreffs, who stands by his pre-Classic comments that Zenyatta has earned the honor, to be announced in January. She narrowly lost out to filly Rachel Alexandra last year, a snub that Shirreffs, owners Jerry and Ann Moss, and jockey Mike Smith took personally.
Zenyatta’s win against the boys in the $5 million Classic last year wasn’t enough to sway voters to her side, and now her loss makes it less likely they’ll back her this time.
“For what she’s done for the horse industry over the last three years, I would have to say that would be a real slap in the face,’’ Shirreffs said last month.
Voting is done by members of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the National Turf Writers Association, and the Daily Racing Form.
“They’ll have to give it to Blame, unfortunately, but I wish they could give her something else, a special award,’’ Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito said. “They should create a special award for horses. She should get it.’’
Zito, whose horse Fly Down finished third in the Classic, believes Horse of the Year is decided on the track.
“You can’t change the outcome,’’ he said. “You are what your record is and she’s 19 and a half.’’
Trainer Todd Pletcher added, “For me, the deciding factor in any close calls is head-to-head matchups.’’
Rick Dutrow, who didn’t saddle a horse in the Classic, was even more blunt in his choice.
“Without a doubt, Blame,’’ he said. “He got beat one time and he beat Zenyatta. How can they take it from him? He beat her, so how can they give it to her over him?’’
Blame won three of four starts this year, with his only loss to Haynesfield in the
Zenyatta won five of six starts, with her only loss coming against the boys in the Classic, which was the strongest and most talented competition she faced all year.
Blame’s co-owner, Seth Hancock of Claiborne Farm, said Horse of the Year was decided Saturday night.
“She’s a great horse, Zenyatta is. But she had her shot to get by, and she didn’t do it,’’ he said afterward. “So I don’t think you can vote for her.’’
Hancock made an impromptu case for Blame, saying, “He won three Grade 1s. He’s taken his show on the road. He’s done everything that’s been asked of him. I can’t believe that he wouldn’t be Horse of the Year.’’
D. Wayne Lukas predicts the balloting will be close, but ultimately, the Hall of Fame trainer sides with Blame.
“In head-to-head competition on the biggest stage in the world, he won. That’s very strong,’’ said Lukas, who also knows more than results could factor in.
“Those that lead with complete logic and no feeling will probably go for Blame. Those that have a big ol’ heart and get sentimental will probably go for the mare.’’
Zito, Pletcher, Dutrow, and Lukas all praised Zenyatta as one of the greatest female horses in history.
She was due to fly home to California late last night.
After another month or so in Shirreffs’s barn at Hollywood Park, Zenyatta will head into retirement and a breeding career.
“As a trainer, you have to let go,’’ he said. “It’s just a feeling of disappointment, but you get over that and then you remember all the fun times.’’