Bill Christine

Bill Christine, whose first Kentucky Derby was in 1968, covered horse racing for 24 years for the Los Angeles Times. He covered every Triple Crown race from 1982 through 2005, and also reported on the first 22 runnings of the Breeders' Cup. Bill has won two Eclipse Awards for turf writing, five Red Smith Awards for best Kentucky Derby stories, two David Woods Awards for best Preakness stories and the National Turf Writers' Association's Walter Haight Award and Pimlico's Old Hilltop Award for career contributions to racing. He was part of the Los Angeles Times team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for its coverage of the Northridge earthquake the year before.

Bill is a former president of the National Turf Writers' Association. He has worked for the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, where he was assistant to the executive vice president, and is a former sports editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He wrote Roberto!, a biography of the Hall of Fame baseball player Roberto Clemente, in 1972. Bill, who lives in Redondo Beach, California, is working on a history of Bay Meadows. Contact:

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Monday, August 09, 2010

A Question for Zenyatta:  Quo Vadis?

SAN DIEGO, August 10, 2010--The new player at the Harrah's Rincon Casino bought into the blackljack game with two $50 bills. Some people think $50 bills are bad luck. I remember the day at nearby Del Mar, several years ago, when somebody hit a $300 exacta payoff and the mutuel clerk tried to pay him in $50 bills. He practically threw those bills in her face, accompanied by a spate of billingsgate. She gave him three $100 bills and he left.

Zenyatta seems to be immune to all the racetrack superstitions, hoary or otherwise. In the vernacular of railbirds, she answers all the questions, but always leaves more questions in her wake. With 18 wins in hand, and two more in the bush, the obvious question at Del Mar, where she won the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes for the third time, was where she would run next. Zenyatta's camp can be excused for being circumspect about answering that question, since one of the options is a race during Oak Tree at Santa Anita, providing there is an Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita. You all remember Santa Anita, don't you, the track with the protean running surface? There are safety concerns at Santa Anita again, and wouldn't it be a kick in the head if Zenyatta's Breeders' Cup prep race took her to problematic Del Mar again?

Reading between the lines, it would appear that the Beldame, scheduled for Belmont Park on October 2, is no longer an option. The Zenyatta Stakes, which will be run somewhere in the Western world or at Santa Anita on the same day, could possibly keep its namesake in California. Zenyatta winning the Zenyatta will be bottled-in-bond inspiration for headline writers everywhere, and largely ignored will be the memory of Lady's Secret, who was cast aside by Oak Tree when it renamed her race. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Already lining up to run against Zenyatta in the Zenyatta is Jerry Jamgotchian, whose Rinterval ran second in the Hirsch, beaten by only a neck. Jamgotchian said that if Zenyatta runs, his stable will be there with two horses, Rinterval and something called Satans Quick Chick, who has also had her moments over synthetic tracks.

Jamgotchian, a Manhattan Beach developer who is California racing's harshest critic, took exception to jockey Mike Smith's comment that Zenyatta's win in the Hirsch was easier than it looked. Smith said that Zenyatta, typically, lollygagged in the stretch after he sent her to the lead too soon.

"I don't know," Jamgotchian said, "but what I saw was (Smith) hitting her pretty good three or four times with his whip. That didn't look to me like she was winning as she pleased."

You must know by now that Jamgotchian is the contrarian's contrarian. He also questioned Smith's post-race remark about Zenyatta becoming the greatest horse of all-time if she wins two more and finishes her career at perfect vision, 20-20.

"I can't see that," Jamgotchian said. "The best I can give her is the best California-raced horse of all time. That should piss everybody off."

By skipping the Beldame and not running in New York, Zenyatta will once more invite the disdain of Eclipse Awards voters back there. But no matter where she preps, a second win over males in the Breeders' Cup Classic, this time while running over old-fashioned dirt at Churchill Downs, will win back the voters, who will have no Rachel Alexandra as an alternate as they did in 2009. Never write off a horse until they've been dead for 10 years, the trainer Charlie Whittingham used to say, but it's difficult to muster any enthusiasm for Rachel Alexandra at this juncture. The 2010 Horse of the Year title is Zenyatta's to lose. She could even lose the race and win the title, if some goofball horse like Volponi or Arcangues would win the Classic. Voters' remorse from 2009, Zenyatta's horde of supporters might bray. I would say, Probably just the right thing to do.

Written by Bill Christine

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