But then I don’t think I would have whined about the way Eclipse voters cast their ballots, hinting that many voters might not have fully appreciated the behemoth filly’s wondrous 7-for-7 season while peering through their East Coast-colored glasses.
In this space last year, we implored owner Jerry Moss and trainer John Shirreffs to run in the Classic, stating that their filly had nothing left to prove beating her own kind, in her own back yard.
In the run-up to Breeders‘ Cup, many observers believed that the Pro Ride surface would favor the Europeans. But no one could have fathomed how much the invaders would dominate the silver anniversary edition of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.
After all it’s still a long way from Tipperary to Tinseltown.
The filly’s connections had every right to choose the path of least resistance, even if the Ladies Classic field was one of the deepest ever assembled, and collect the lioness’s share of a $2 million purse.
Besides, managing an undefeated race horse comes with a unique set of pressures and, yes, the connections had another horse, Tiago, to run in the Classic the following day.
After having a strong three-quarter mile workout, indicating that she’s sitting on top of a season’s debut, her first race since October 24, Shirreffs spoke about her losing the Horse of the Year title to Curlin, who didn’t duck the Classic despite his trainer’s concerns with the synthetic surface. Curlin even tried grass.
Shirreffs told Art Wilson of the Pasadena Star News that he thought losing out to Curlin “was terrible,” saying that the quality of the fields she beat and the races she competed in should have made her Horse of the Year.
“Every field she ran in, out came another winner,” Shirreffs explained. “She beat horses that were peaking. The quality of the fields were just unbelievable.”
In the Classic, a pair of European three-year-olds traveled 5,000 miles and beat a full field of mostly older horses, including a defending Horse of the Year.
Indeed, Zenyatta dominated the best field of fillies assembled in 2008. However, in six previous starts, she beat a total of 30 rivals, an average five fillies per start, all but one over the California synthetics.
Owner Moss conceded that the late Joe Hirsch always held that fillies and/or three year old males must beat older males in the championship events of fall. (Triple Crown winners notwithstanding, of course). Most of Hirsch’s disciples agree.
Zenyatta’s debut could come at Churchill Downs in the Grade 2 Louisville Distaff at a mile and a sixteenth on Oaks day. It would be a greatly anticipated event and a good place to start this year’s Horse of the Year campaign, especially if the Breeders’ Cup winds up at Churchill.
A victory would improve Zenyatta’s record to 10-for-10, putting her within three victories of a great undefeated Hall of Famer, Personal Ensign, a goal worth achieving.
Should she win the May 1 race, the connections mentioned two Grade 1s, Hollywood’s Vanity in June and Del Mar’s Clement L. Hirsch in August as potential future goals. If she takes those, she’d be one win shy of Personal Ensign.
So, figuring that she wins a Breeder’s Cup prep in September, and the Ladies Classic in late October, it would be game over: 14-for-14, a place in racing history and a much better chance to become Horse of the Year 2009 without ever having to face males.
Shirreffs said that he thinks a race against colts is in the back of everyone’s mind and that we’ll see how the rest of the year goes first. (See above).
If the scenario outlined above plays itself out, we’ll never see Zenyatta face males. But if she is defeated, taking her out of the Personal Ensign territory, the only way for her to win the title her connections felt they deserved last year might be to take on the boys.
There is another possible scenario, however, one that would take--how do they say it in that part of the country? Right, cojones.
She wins her 13th consecutive race prepping for the Breeders’ Cup then goes for the record vs. males in the Classic. In that case, Horse of the Year would be a given. She would have tied Personal Ensign and Curlin wasn’t punished for his Classic loss, was he?
Instead, Zenyatta wins and becomes an iconic figure, a truly legendary racehorse, setting that standard over the same racetrack Personal Ensign ran her greatest race, beating a filly who beat boys that same year in the Kentucky Derby.
How’s that, Hollywood?