I'm a FAN.
Somewhere along the line it happened; I only really knew it today, when I saw her near miss in the Classic by a long nose. I knew she didn't get there, but for a moment, I was in shear disbelief. Maybe I saw it wrong, maybe there would be a steward's inquiry, maybe...just maybe...
Mike Smith's tearful comments to the press broke my heart; Mike's a world class rider and Zenny, a world class mare, there is certainly no shame in their performance today. If anything, in defeat, Zenyata showed the world what a true champion looks like. On an unfamiliar track not to her liking, under lights, with a full field of the best horses in the country throwing dirt in her face, she rallied from too far off the pace, found a hole, came at least five wide on the outside, and kicked it into gear. She lost by a nose to a game and ready horse with home field advantage. I'd like to think in the end, she simply didn't know where the wire was. As Blame held on with his ears pinned to his poll, and his neck stretched to its fullest, Zenyatta's ears still flopped about, she still looked confident and in charge. Blame, at home, knew where the finish was, just as Zenny has always seemed to at Hollywood Park. Ahhh.. home field advantage.
The naysayers will cheer, and proclaim she is undeserving of HOY honor's now. I disagree. Look, had she been passed in the stretch, or been beaten soundly by a length, or finished out her career like Quality Road, with a dismal finish, then yes, she would be undeserving of the crown. Yet, here is a mare, who to this moment, was undefeated this year, traveled east to race on dirt (is it her fault that Rachel Alexandra would not face her?), and came out to a track she had never raced on to pull out all the stops on the biggest day of American racing. While it was easy to trivialize her win last year with complaints about the polytrack, and her home field advantage, if that is the case can we not do the same to her only competition for the Eclipse Award, Blame? Would it be wrong to say a true champion should be able to show they can handle both poly and dirt, and race successfully on both coasts? Can we say that perhaps Blame would not have done so well had the race been on a track he was unfamiliar with? The debate will continue until a Horse of the Year is crowned.
Let me break it down:
Blame: 5 races this year (4 G1's, 1G3) 4 wins, 1 second (in a G1) to Haynesfield (lost by 4 lengths). 4 different tracks all East Coast, all dirt
Zenyatta: 6 races this year (6 G1's) 5 wins, 1 second to Blame (lost by half a head). 5 different tracks, 3 West Coast and 2 East Coast, 2 dirt
I'm not going to look at distances, or the competition in those races; to be frank, a G1 is just that, and neither of these horses, or their connections, have any control over who shows up to face them. I also think it is sexist and unfair to play the gender card here. When it comes down to HOY honors, voters should not be devaluing a G1 race because its conditions are for fillies/mares. If that is going to be the case, then we need a HOY for each gender...separate but equal (sneer).. sound familiar?
So yes.. I'm a fan; the wins, the come from behind style, the ears, the dance, the connections.. in the end she won me over. So tonight, watching her walk back to the barn with dirt in her eyes, and Mario's hand on her neck, and not into the winner's circle, where I felt she belonged... I felt empty.
Zenyatta, thanks for the ride. What you have done for thoroughbred racing is immeasurable; how blessed are we to have seen you in action, and how much we will miss you. Thank you to the Mosses for sharing your mare with us, she has been a gift, and to Mike Smith and Mario Espinoza, who both obviously love Zenyatta, and believe, like many of us that she is perfection, even if she is 19-1.