Honestly, it was shocking to see Zenyatta eclipse (pun intended) Blame as Horse of the Year, but it was the right thing to do. Kudos to the voters who decided it was OK to buck tradition and recognize this very special filly that was defeated in only her last race – the usual deciding benchmark for determining Horse of the Year. We’ll likely never see another one like her. Her name, heart and achievements will be remembered by so many for decades to come (not something that can be said of most bestowed with this honor).

So many who watched the Breeders’ Cup Classic this past year had a lump in their throat and a heavy heart when Zenyatta crossed the finish line so close (losing by a nose), but beat. Many wondered if the outcome would have been different with a cleaner trip (probably – but that’s horse racing).

Mike Smith has heart too

One thing that really touched me on race day was Mike Smith’s comments (he was the jockey aboard in all but three of her starts – and her only defeat). He choked back tears lamenting that he had let her down, knowing that she recognized the loss. Anyone who’s ridden competitive race horses gets this. Horses that are standout racers know when they lose a race. It bothers them. You can see it in their behavior after the race. They usually pick up their heads as the next race approaches, but this was Zenyatta’s last. His sadness for her is understandable – and demonstrates Smith’s character in his connection with the horses he rides.

While I couldn’t find the quote where he talks about her, I did find this one from Dan Steele’s column on Fanhouse.com (November 6, 2010). “It hurts more than I can explain,” he said, hesitatingly pressing his hands against his eyes, then choking up. “Just because it was my fault.” He paused again, then continued, his voice cracking, “She should have won, and it hurts.”  See http://www.fanhouse.com/2010/11/06/tears-and-blame-for-zenyattas-jockey-mike-smith/ for the full article.

The Eclipse Awards

According to www.bloodhorse.com, The Eclipse Awards (honoring horses and horsemen in the racing industry – and the deciders of choice for Horse of the Year) are voted on and presented by the NTRA, Daily Racing Form (DRF) and National Turf Writers And Broadcasters (NTWAB).

Is Zenyatta and Moss poised to change the industry?

Jerry Moss, who’s the owner of Zenyatta (with his wife) made some interesting comments after the awards presentation about paying more attention to fans of the racing industry:

“I came from an industry that sued its fans when they started stealing music through Napster,” he said. “There is sentiment in this business and you have to play to it. It is true in show business and it is true in racing. If you have a horse who gets people in the heart, then they want to come see them and get to know more about them, and you have the Beatles again.”

Given what the Moss’ are currently doing to make Zenyatta available to the public, he seems to be a man who lives by his words.

Moss (well credit really needs to go to trainer John Shirreffs, but owners can put a lot of pressure on trainers to put training on the fast track) also dismissed norms by taking the time to wait until Zenyatta was ready to race. She didn’t have her first start until the end of her three-year-old season (November 2007). She only had two starts that year. Trying to run this huge filly at two would have probably resulted in career-ending injuries. Many trainers would have insisted she get with their program. Early breakdowns are just an indication to them the horse wasn’t good enough. She was lightly raced by most standards the following two years, with seven and five starts respectively.

Hopefully Moss’s convictions about having an impact on racing fans will extend to activities that encourage some changes in thought in industry precepts The career of this mare and associated training that made it so provides a wonderful anecdote to illustrate how slow, customized and patient strategies win the race. I imagine any owner would be satisfied with the $7 million-plus she’s amassed (in 20 starts). Not bad for a $60K purchase.

Where did Zenyatta get her name?

On the small world front, Zenyatta’s name has a family tie. Moss signed the Police to A&M Records and named her after their Zenyatta Mondatta album.

What do you think?

Are you ready to offer solutions instead of jumping on bandwagons that attack problems? Moss and Shirreffs deserve a lot credit for doing the right thing the help make Zenyatta be her best. They both have a great success story to recount for decades to come on how going against the grain helped create one of the most amazing equine performers of the century. Zenyatta, in turn, chose to take care of them, and I imagine they will take care of her for the rest of her life. It’s interesting how happy this mare seems to be in everything she does (from her dance to the paddock on race day to her retirement videos). She’s a character. All the people surround her (owners, grooms, jockeys, trainers, etc.) seem to appreciate this with no desire to stifle her expression. That’s part of what makes this mare’s story so precious. How can we as individuals use this great example to help our horses delight in human interactions and suitable careers? What are you doing with the horses you encounter to help them shine? Do you have ideas for others on how to encourage a horse to be part of the conversation (and the owner to recognize what they’re trying to tell them?)? Please share in your comments below.

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