I wish I could take credit for this idea but I can’t. As I walked off the set of Capital Off-Track Betting’s “Handicappers’ Report” Saturday morning, my co-host, a USC graduate who probably knows more about West Coast racing than anyone on this side of the continent, suggested I reach out to you.
First, a question. Did you happen to see the feature race from Longchamp on Sunday? How about that Zarkava? An undefeated three-year-old filly who underscored her greatness by defeating males in Europe’s most prestigious Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
I think you know where I'm going with this. I want you to take a page out of Jess Jackson’s book, who brought his horse back at 4 and devoted 2008 to putting his horse’s greatness in a historical context. He’s done that, even if he fails to win the Classic, or decides to remain on the sidelines. Curlin is, after all, America’s first and only “Ten Million Dollar Man.”
For the good of the game, it would be great if you raced your wonderful mare against the boys in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. For your program, your legacy, and the stature of the brilliant Zenyatta, it’s all upside.
Your trainer, John Shirreffs, recently appeared on another Capital OTB show, “Down the Stretch,” and said that Zenyatta would make her final start of the year in the Ladies Distaff, leaving the door open for a possible five-year-old campaign. He said that winning the Distaff over the deepest field of equine females assembled this year would be quite an achievement. And it would.
But how often do events conspire so favorably that affords an opportunity to make history? Zarkava was magnificent winning the Arc, the first filly in 15 years. But a filly winning the Arc is not unique. In fact, fillies won five straight Arcs, from 1979 to 1983, 17 in Arc history. But no filly has ever won the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
While those inside the game and its most knowledgeable fans don’t actively discriminate, great fillies beating other fillies don’t capture the imagination the same way males do. Is that fair? Hardly. But isn’t that the reality?
Anyone around the game longer than five minutes knows that undefeated champion Personal Ensign was truly a great mare. Who could forget the most relentless stretch run in Distaff history in which Personal Ensign beat another filly, Winning Colors, who beat the boys in the Kentucky Derby? And, of course, Personal Ensign beat the boys in the storied Whitney.
But in the public’s perception, was Personal Ensign, rightly or wrongly, the equal of Ruffian? I don‘t think anyone believes that. Fillies have to do something to set them themselves apart.
Ruffian had one style: go, go, go. And it was that style, and the hell-bent-for-leather scenario unique to match racing, that led to her tragic accident. But according to your jockey, Mike Smith, your filly rates herself, saying that she's as comfortable stalking a moderate pace as she is sitting far behind hot fractions.
Smith says, too, that Zenyatta has only recently learned how to run, putting herself into races when she wants, no longer needing urging to do so. And, of course, she has the physical tools, an amazon of a filly.
Of profound significance is the fact that Smith never has gotten to the bottom of her and is beginning to think she might be the best horse of either sex he’s ridden, which includes not only Azeri but males Holy Bull and Skip Away, voted Horse of the Year in 2002, 1994 and 1998, respectively.
That covers as much ground as your filly’s tremendous stride.
Mr. Sherriffs and yourself probably believe it’s poor business to run her against your colt, Tiago, who’s coming up to this Classic off a fine prep race. That's the common wisdom but this is a unique situation.
This is a chance to not only win a Horse of the Year title by becoming the only filly in a quarter-century to win a Classic and place the name Zenyatta in the same conversation with Ruffian. And only a victory over a reigning Horse of the Year and a dual classics Derby winner in the same race can do that if your decision is to send her home after the Breeders' Cup.
In a game where nothing is certain, the stars could not be aligned any better. The two favorites have come 3,000 miles to race on a surface over which neither has run. And as we have all seen, good synthetic workouts do not guarantee good synthetic performance.
All your filly need do is walk across the barn area and into the Santa Anita starting gate. And your rider has said something else: Mike Smith said that of all the synthetic surfaces over which Zenyatta has run, she likes Pro Ride the best.
On the Equiform performance figure scale--which recently drew favorable reviews from Horseplayer magazine--none of the big three are coming up to the Classic better than your filly. Big Brown’s numbers have flattened after earning a lifetime best figure in the Derby. Curlin’s best two figures came in last year’s Preakness and the sloppy-track Classic, his lifetime top.
But your filly is still developing as she grows into her monstrous frame. She peaked winning the Clement Hirsch, virtually matching Big Brown’s and Curlin’s fast-track tops as she continues to move forward. And for this race she’s coming off a “soft win” in the Lady’s Secret, meaning her pace and final figures indicate she won within herself, just the way it looked to the naked eye.
With the filly and mare championship assured with her sound defeat of Ginger Punch in the Apple Blossom, a worthy effort in defeat historically could do for Zenyatta what a remarkable placing in the Jockey Club Gold Cup did for Seattle Slew. But of the big three, Zenyatta is the only one that projects to move forward to a career best. And she need not do so to win.
Horse of the Year and household-name status awaits. Zenyatta has earned and deserves this opportunity Mr. Moss. Run your filly in the Classic, making it the race of this or any other year. She'll win. All hail Zenyatta: Toast of the Racing World.
Thanks for your time, Mr. Moss.