Friday, August 19, 2011

Zenyatta: The Queen of Horse Racing

As soon as we were presented with the opportunity to give an informational speech of our choice in speech class, my mind immediately wandered to horse racing. However, that subject was too broad to give a brief speech over. My mind then zoomed in on Zenyatta. This is the speech I wrote for that assignment. By the time I was done giving my speech, basketball, football, and hard-core metal fans in my class had become fascinated with the great mare.

On April 1, 2004, a Thoroughbred filly was born. Yes, it was April Fool’s Day, but this horse is no fool.

Her name is Zenyatta.
Photo: Terri Cage
As a yearling, she was bought for the bargain price of $60,000, which is cheap for a racehorse. She was bought by Jerry & Ann Moss, who named her Zenyatta after The Police album, Zenyatta Mondatta. In fact, the Moss’s had won the Kentucky Derby earlier that year with Giacomo, named after Sting’s son, as Jerry Moss is a record producer who happens to be good friends with Sting. Many of the Moss’s horses have music-related names, but the Moss’s never could have guessed how famous Zenyatta’s name would become.

The dark bay/brown filly grew to be a monstrous size. John Shirreffs, Zenyatta’s trainer, slowed down the young horse’s training, not wanting to cause any permanent damage to her bones, muscles, or joints.

It paid off.

On Thanksgiving Day 2007, the gigantic filly made her racing debut as a near 4-year-old, a very late start for a racehorse. In the race for non-winners, Zenyatta effortlessly swept across the finish line at Hollywood Park first. A month later, she raced in her first allowance race. Again, she won easily.

After that, she took the racing world by storm, defeating champion fillies and mares such as Ginger Punch with ease. She’d run her undefeated streak to 8-for-8 coming into the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic, the most prestigious race for female racehorses.

After the race, all the headlines said she’d made the championship win look too easy.

The popular mare took home the Eclipse Award for Older Female of the Year and was just beat out for Horse of the Year, though many believe she should have won that award as well.

The mare, who was 17.2 hands high – nearly 6 feet tall at the top of the shoulder – was known for running behind all the other horses for the whole race, until the homestretch, when she struck to the lead with style. With each and every spectacular race, Zenyatta gained more and more fans.

Throughout 2009, Zenyatta continued to wow fans by winning each of her races in a thrilling fashion. As the 2009 Breeders’ Cup approached, fans wondered if the wildly popular mare would race in the Ladies’ Classic, for females only, or the Classic, open to males and females.

The remarkable mare chose the Classic. She was the only female in the race. She would race against the most accomplished 11 male racehorses in the world – including the Kentucky Derby winner – putting her perfect 13-for-13 record on the line.

The grandstand shook with screaming fans as the incomparable mare soared to victory, becoming the only female in history to win the Classic.

Zenyatta now stood at the pinnacle of racing, but again, she was narrowly beat out for Horse of the Year by another outstanding female, Rachel Alexandra. Again, many people believed she should have won the prestigious award.

The Moss’s announced that the mare was retired, but Zenyatta acted like she didn’t want to quit. She continued to train and it was soon announced that she would continue to race.

Zenyatta easily won her comeback race, now with a perfect record of 15-for-15.

People began pitting her against Rachel Alexandra and a huge offer of $5 million for a race in Arkansas, the Apple Blossom, was made for the two to race together. After Rachel Alexandra lost her comeback race, Zenyatta and just four other horses entered the race.

Zenyatta had won the race before, back in 2008. It was on a dirt surface, which was different from the synthetic surfaces she normally raced on. Plus, it was in Arkansas and she’d only raced outside of California once, and that was when she’d won the Apple Blossom in 2008.

It was no trouble for her. She won the 2010 Apple Blossom by over 4 lengths, one of her biggest margin of victories ever.

Zenyatta continued to thrill fans as she won more races as she pointed toward the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic, held at the prestigious Churchill Downs in Kentucky. By the time the Breeders’ Cup rolled around, she’d gone undefeated in nineteen races, tying the record for consecutive wins.

Photo: Terri Cage

On that cold November night at Churchill Downs, I watched in person as Zenyatta fell just half a head short to the best male racehorse in the country. She passed him right after the finish line.

She’d been the best horse in the race and she’d run a better race than the winner. Zenyatta, a second-place finisher for the first time, got a standing ovation from her many loving fans.

Despite her loss, she’d proven doubters wrong in arguably the most spectacular race ever run by a horse that didn’t win. No other horse could have done as well as she had with the horrible trip she’d had throughout the race. And in hearts and minds of racing fans everywhere, she was 20-for-20.

Facebook pages were created by fans petitioning for her to win Horse of the Year.

She did. She beat out the only horse to ever beat her on the track to win the most prestigious award in all of horse racing.

Then she was retired. For real this time. She was seven-years-old, which is old for a horse to compete in a race.

She moved from California to Kentucky and was turned out to pasture at one of the most renowned farms in the country, Lane’s End. She was bred to Bernardini, one of the greatest racehorses of the past decade, towards the end of February, but the pregnancy unexpectedly ended. She was bred to Bernardini again on April 3 and has since been confirmed in foal. Though she’ll never set foot on a racetrack again, her offspring will capture the hearts and minds of race fans like she did.

And Zenyatta will be known as one of the greatest racehorses of all time and will forever be a legend.

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