Saturday, March 17, 2012

Zenyatta and Life is Sweet: Similar in Many Ways

The first Friday and Saturday in November of 2009 were surely two days that will never be erased from the memory of trainer John Shirreffs. By the culmination of those two days, Shirreffs had rewritten the history books of horse racing, leaving a mark on not just the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, but the world of horse racing, that will forever be remembered.

Under beautiful blue skies, a four-year-old filly named Life is Sweet closed from behind to take the final Breeders’ Cup race on the Friday card, the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (GI). The next day, a five-year-old mare by the name of Zenyatta ran similarly, unleashing a breathtaking rally in late stretch to triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI), becoming the first female racehorse to do so. Both horses had emerged from the same barn.

John Shirreffs, trainer of Life is Sweet
and Zenyatta
Photo: Terri Cage
John Shirreffs had become the first ever conditioner to train both the victor of the Ladies’ Classic (formerly called the Distaff) and the Classic in the same year. The feat would be repeated in 2011 by Bill Mott at Churchill Downs, but the accomplishment has only occurred twice since the Breeders’ Cup was first contested in 1984 at Hollywood Park.

Racing fans rejoiced in Shirreffs’ achievement at the 2009 Breeders’ Cup. Zenyatta had caused the grandstand of the Great Race Place to shake harder than it had in about seventy years, when Seabiscuit had ruled the Arcadia, California track. Some even said the thousands of fans who witnessed the great mare prevail in the Classic made the grandstand erupt in the loudest sound ever made by spectators at a race, a sound even louder than the cheers that were released for Seabiscuit.

Though overshadowed by Zenyatta, Life is Sweet’s victory also stirred racing fans. The mare was popular in her own right and had grown famous not only for being Zenyatta’s stablemate, but for acquiring several graded stakes wins and being a full sister to the Champion Two-Year-Old Filly of 2004, Sweet Catomine.

Following Zenyatta and Life is Sweet and watching the two blossom under the care of Shirreffs became a hobby for many racing enthusiasts. Video footage of the mares slurping up Guinness from a plastic container, relaxing in Barn 55, and training in the mornings had racing fans falling head over heels for the Shirreffs trainees. The love racing fanatics had for Zenyatta and Life is Sweet only swelled as the mares obtained prestigious victories.

Though it was anticipated that Zenyatta’s career would conclude before Life is Sweet was done on the track, Zenyatta was declared unretired in January 2010, about two months after the spectacular mare had crossed the wire victoriously in the Classic. After another two months had passed, Life is Sweet was unexpectedly retired when she tied up after a work.

Photo: Terri Cage
Life is Sweet found a new home in Kentucky at Lane’s End Farm, where she was bred to Smart Strike before settling down with other broodmares, growing accustomed to her new life. Meanwhile, Zenyatta continued racing, increasing her fan base as she ran her perfect record to nineteen-for-nineteen before running an incredible but heartbreaking second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs.

Racing fans tearfully watched Zenyatta leave the racetrack, where she also found a new home at Lane’s End Farm in Kentucky. Nearly four months after the 2010 Horse of the Year arrived at the renowned farm, Life is Sweet delivered her Smart Strike colt. By the end of 2011, both mares were in foal to Bernardini. Zenyatta gave birth to her Bernardini colt on March 8, 2012 and fans of the mares await the birth of Life is Sweet’s second foal, which is expected to come later this year.

Not only did Life is Sweet and Zenyatta share the same running style and trainer, but they now share the same farm in retirement. However, those are not the only things the spectacular mares have in common. Several similarities can be found in their bloodlines as well.

Both mares descend from the Phalaris sire line, which originated with the Darley Arabian, one of the three foundation sires of the Thoroughbred. Life is Sweet, sired by the great sire Storm Cat, descends from Pharalis through Pharos, the sire of the incredibly influential sire Nearco. Zenyatta, sired by the prospering sire Street Cry, descends from Pharalis through Sickle, the great-grandsire of Native Dancer.

Other descendants of the Pharalis sire line include many of the greatest racehorses of all-time, including Affirmed, Buckpasser, Cigar, Native Dancer, Ruffian, Seattle Slew, Secretariat, Spectacular Bid, and Tom Fool. In addition to producing these horses and Life is Sweet and Zenyatta, the Pharalis sire line has yielded recent superstars such as Bernardini, Curlin, Havre de Grace, Invasor, and Rachel Alexandra. The Phalaris sire line is the most common one found in Thoroughbred racehorses.

Not only do Life is Sweet and Zenyatta share somewhat similar top sides of their pedigree, but they have a very similar dam side, both being out of Kris S. mares. Life is Sweet’s dam is the stakes-winning and grade one-placed 2009 Broodmare of the Year, Sweet Life, and Zenyatta is out of Vertigineux, the 2008 Broodmare of the Year. The sire of both prosperous broodmares is the stakes-winning Kris S., a son of the influential sire Roberto and the Princequillo mare Sharp Queen. Not only was Roberto a significant sire, but Princequillo was an incredible broodmare sire, being the sire of the dams of many great horses, such as Key to the Mint, Mill Reef, and Secretariat. In fact, Princequillo was the leading North American broodmare sire eight times. Kris S. went on to sire sixty-three stakes winners and became the broodmare sire of such grade one-winning horses as Balance (Zenyatta’s half-sister), Kris Kin, Ladies Din, and Student Council.

Both Life is Sweet and Zenyatta captured the hearts of racing enthusiasts, galloping their way to victory before crowds cheering deafeningly and bringing smiles to fans with their endearing personalities. Their lives on the track are over and now they reside on the prestigious Lane’s End Farm in the historic bluegrass, bringing to the world offspring that look to extend the mares’ legacies and similar royal bloodlines. There will always be a large impression left on the racing industry from these two remarkable mares.

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  1. That was great Mary...I love Life is Sweet and Zenyatta!!

  2. thanks Mary....learning alot !!!!! I love these mares

  3. Thanks so much for updates on Life is Sweet. One of my favorite mares along with our Queen Z. I did not know she was in foal to Bernardini too. We will await her news. Wonder how her other (first foal) is doing.