Zenyatta is one of the great mares in racing history. Her owners, Jerry and Ann Moss, planned to retire the six-year-old after the Breeder’s Cup Classic in Louisville, KY on November 7th this year. Instead of retiring with an outstanding record of twenty wins, she came in second by a nose in this last important race. Zenyatta’s record of nineteen wins out of twenty starts should be her lasting tribute, however, more than her one loss.
Crowds lined the area where Zenyatta walked to the paddock to be saddled. People yelled and cheered their encouragement while her handlers tried to shush the noise, hoping to lessen the pressure on her.
She showed her nervous anticipation in her characteristic walk, lifting her right front foot, and sometimes her left, in a dressage-like extension, as if pawing the air. The announcer called it a dance movement. Maybe they will name it the Zenyatta Step.
Can’t Win Them All
We all watched as horse number eight headed for the loading gate, entered without problem and stood waiting. We saw her come out of the gate more slowly than we hoped for and follow the pack of eleven other horses for way too long! We urged her forward, urged her on to find her way to the front! And then she came, fighting to get there, finally getting through the bunched pack to enough space where she could move out. She tried. She gave it everything she had. She lost by a nose. And we all felt that moment of heartbreak for her, for her jockey, her trainer and her owners, and for all those others who have grown to admire this fantastic mare.
An Emotional Race
Zenyatta came up from dead last to almost win. As the sunset cast a rosy glow over Churchill Downs, she was led back to the barn for the first time without her moment of glory in the winner’s circle—while Mike Smith, her jockey, fought to control his emotions over perhaps his greatest loss. Her trainer, John Shirreffs, walked back with his head down, hands in his pockets. Her owners seemed stunned.
The Heart of A Mare
Did we expect her to be invincible? Didn’t we expect her to come up from behind again with her thrilling power and heart to win and to cross the finish line with her usual last-minute triumph? Things happen. If anything, blame the dirt thrown in her face from the flying feet in front of her. She was used to a synthetic track. But in spite of the dirt and the late start, she gave it her all, as most mares do.
An Undeniable Spirit
Speaking for women in general, many of us know something about the pressure to win in a male-dominated sport. Zenyatta definitely has the heart of a winner and we will remember her valiant try. This mare has won the hearts of countless fans. May her babies continue her legacy!
Betsy Kelleher’s second book, MARES! (ya gotta love em), is a compilation of stories from mare owners across the United States, sharing the challenges and joys of mare ownership. Her first book, Sometimes a Woman Needs a Horse, shared her experiences learning to train her first mare and the spiritual message she found in their relationship. Betsy writes a monthly column for the Illinois Horse Network newspaper under the heading, Sometimes God Uses Horses. Visit her website, www.goduseshorses.com to learn more about her, her horses, her books and her columns.