Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Case for Zenyatta

If you're still one of the hardened, Zenyatta doubters, even with the brilliant mare's historic near miss on Churchill's dirt, against the boys and amongst the finest Thoroughbreds, well, take time out from telling your 5-year-old there's no Santa and listen up...

Let's take three issues among national media/horse racing experts/bloggers that were or can be argued the day after the Breeders' Cup Classic. Please allow me to speak for Zenyatta and her connections, even though at this stage of her career such explanations are truly unnecessary.

Claim #1: Zenyatta beat mostly cream puffs on her way to winning 19 straight, right?

This requires a "yes," and "no" response. When a decent claiming horse wins three straight, everyone jumps aboard willingly, betting the nag down to 3-5 hoping to cash. But when Zenyatta, racing at the top of the sport's long and deep talent ladder, rips off Grade 1 win after Grade 1 win, her connections are accused of playing it soft and easy.

First of all, let's admit that the world's greatest fillies and mares weren't beating down the door ready to face Zenyatta. Zenyatta's connections can't be blamed (pun, ouch not intended) for trainers and owners ducking her. But ladies and gentlemen these weren't exactly races restricted to statebreds or starter allowances that Zenyatta was winning; they were Grade 1 races for goodness sakes!

Are Zenyatta's connections guilty of taking an easy, conservative road to the Breeders' Cup Classic? Sure. But who among us would take the sportsman's route and travel cross country or even across the world risking a chance at history? Anyone can talk a good game, miles away from the shed row. Why don't you take your dwindling 401K and invest in an aggressive small, capital fund and maybe double your money? The risk simply isn't worth the possible reward when it's your money.

Team Zenyatta mapped out a plan for 20-0 and came within a head of pulling off. They should have been roundly applauded, instead of being skewered by supposed experts. "Expert" being loosely defined as someone who has made at least one winning bet.

Claim #2: Staying close to home for 17 out of her 20 wins wasn't in Thoroughbred racing's best interest.

Allow me to answer with a question for you: Why would or should Zenyatta's connections complete and compete a series of races for the good of all Thoroughbreds? Winning is the name of the Thoroughbred game and Zenyatta's connections amazingly put her in the best position to win for three straight years!

Claim #3: Against a good/great field on dirt, Zenyatta's weakness would be exposed.

This knock was answered around 6:48 pm Eastern Standard Time on Saturday. Even though she was markedly slow, even for her, getting into stride, Zenyatta did everything but win yesterday. More gallant in defeat than Blame was in winning - he had the better trip at his favorite track.

As for the Horse of the Year discussion - Without Zenyatta racing yesterday, far fewer racing and sports fans care about the sport. A Zenyatta win was what almost everyone was routing for and isn't that worth something for the sport, Zenyatta and her connections?

1 comment:

  1. Good points Tony, though I myself haven't really heard any Zenyatta detractors since her amazing Classic run.
    Any other horse on the planet, in history for that matter, would have been severely pressed to make up half the ground Zenyatta was able to cover in reaching Blame. Silky Sullivan himself would be seriously challenged!
    I'm usually a very "black and white" Horse of the Year supporter, going with the horses that have traveled the country, raced on the dirt and sought out the tougher challenges each and every time. This year was different, there was no Rachel Alexandra and no opponent that went undefeated through the entire year, it was all about Zenyatta this year and her quest for perfection. The build up to the Classic is the greatest build-up to any one race in my lifetime and rivals that of many from yesteryear. It would be a very fitting tribute to award Zenyatta Horse of the Year I think, even though Blame makes a very strong case.