This Breeder’s Cup season, the racing world will turn its focus toward the victories of the equine athletes in the series of prestigious races. A stunning victory showcases the glory of a race horse and can serve as the catalyst to transform a good horse into a great one. Victory is how this sport counts its champions, and, for those who go defeated, they typically stand in the shadows of the winner’s circle as the victor carries the moment.
Yet, at the close of the Breeders’ Cup last year, victory was simply more than the domain of the winner in the Classic. A certain kind of “victory” was also bestowed upon Zenyatta, standing in the cold night, as a freshly defeated mare transforming her heartbreaking loss into a moment of glory. And so, as this Breeders’ Cup season begins, I marvel over the Zenyatta’s quest for victory and wonder if winning is more than standing in the winner’s circle.
Perhaps, there is a little victory that occurs in the smaller moments in racing. The victories don’t count for career records or fancy trophies, but they are possibly part of what makes a champion. And, when I think of many champion racehorses, most of them have experienced both victory and defeat on their road to immortality.
In the case of Zenyatta, it seems that the big mare earned a few unsung victories during last year’s Classic despite her official defeat in the race itself.
It seems that there is a small victory through striking awe in the crowd before the gates ever open in a race. In the minutes leading up to the last Classic, Zenyatta held court in the post-parade like no other contender. The mare looked like a true prize fighter, daring anyone to challenge her on that oval. In that moment, it was her show, and, for those who came to see it, it seemed that defeat was simply out of the question.
And then, there appears to be a glimmer of victory in how a race is run before the wire is crossed. When Zenyatta set flight under the waning autumn sky in the Classic, her dazzling charge in the dusk epitomized something otherworldly. As she rushed past in blur, the sheer speed of her closing kick set in for the first time as I stood in the crowd.
In the end, whether she made it to the wire first or not, there was a small victory present. The mare had captured the victory of sending the crowd soaring at the sight of her final charge. Spectators began to murmur, “She’s going to win it!” in the last dizzying seconds of the Classic. The voices went from whispers to shouts in synchronicity with her movement. And, in that moment, it seems the crowd was racing along with the great mare.
And finally, it seems there was a victory present in the least likely moment – The moment the mare lost the race. Zenyatta, mired with fresh markings of defeat, faced the crowd and stood proudly for an ovation. And, as the crowd rose to pay homage to the great mare, tears streamed down the faces of many people as they stood to pay her a final tribute. Whatever sentiment those tears held, the glory of that mare was simply not in dispute. She held the victory of honor in defeat.
Yes, there and then, a perfect juxtaposition of victory and defeat occurred in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Two champions were on display – one in the winner’s circle and the other receiving a standing ovation in defeat. And, in her defeat, Zenyatta won the prize that had repeatedly eluded the mare in perfection – Horse of the Year.
Retrospectively, it appears there may be more than one winner in last year’s Classic. The true winner, Blame, who conquered the perfect mare in the Classic. And the other winner, Zenyatta, the great mare who was crowned Horse of the Year only after she conquered defeat.
In November, The Saturday Post started an annual fan poll to allow racing enthusiasts to cast their picks for their favorite champions in various categories during the 2010 racing season. The votes are in. Take a look at our fan favorites!
Horse of the Year – Zenyatta.
By an overwhelming 97 percent of fan votes, Zenyatta commanded a solid victory for “Horse of the Year” in our racing poll.
During her career, the great mare commanded rock star power through claiming victory after victory in nineteen consecutive outings. She is the highest female earning racehorse of all time in North America. She won the most consecutive Grade I victories in the sport. She pulled three “three-peats” in the Clement Hirsch, Lady’s Secret and Vanity. Finally, Zenyatta made history through becoming the first female to ever beat the boys in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2009.
Beyond the record books, Zenyatta brought many intangibles to the sport. She delighted fans with her dizzying ‘dance routines’ in the paddock, video footage of her guzzling a Guinness in her stable and invited everyone to take a “virtual ride” on her back through a helmet camera she used during a workout.
She also brought the sport into the national limelight. Zenyatta was featured as one of the most powerful women of 2010 in Oprah’s magazine, as well as a figure in the “Society” section of W fashion magazine. She claimed ownership of Los Angeles in her billboard entitled, “This Is My Town,” as part of a marketing campaign for the L.A. Dodgers Baseball Team. Finally, Zenyatta’s segment on 60 Minutes served as the first time the show had ever filmed a piece on a racehorse.
Simply put, Zenyatta delivered a show that was unimaginable before she began her racing career. She made people wonder. She made people cry. She made people marvel at her beauty. And, in the process, she added excitement to the sport for both long-time enthusiasts and newcomers.
Best Older Male Horse – Blame. With 65 percent of votes in his favor, Blame won the fan poll for Best Older Male Horse. During his career, Blame won nine races in thirteen career starts and retired with career earnings of $4,368,214. In 2010, he won three Grade I victories, including the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Best Older Female Horse – Zenyatta. Aside from “Horse of the Year,” 86 percent of fans also voted for Zenyatta as the “Best Older Female Horse.” Goldikova served as the second choice in the fan poll for this category.
Best Three-Year-Old Male Horse – Lookin’ at Lucky. Preakness-winner Lookin’ at Lucky won best “Three-Year-Old Male Horse,” capturing 74 percent of the votes in our racing poll.
Best Three-Year-Old Filly – Blind Luck. With five Grade I wins, Blind Luck won “Best Three-Year-Old Filly” with 85 percent of fans voting in her favor.
Best Two-Year-Old Male Horse – Uncle Mo. With an undefeated record in three starts as a two-year-old, including his victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Uncle Mo has won “Best Two-Year-Old Male Horse” in our fan poll with 80 percent of the votes.
Best Two-Year-Old Female Horse – Awesome Feather. With a six-race undefeated record, Awesome Feather has won the fan vote for “Best Two-Year-Old Female Horse,” with 78 percent of votes in her favor.
Yesterday, Zenyatta fans arrived in droves at Churchill Downs to see if the wondermare could clinch a second victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Much like Zenyatta herself, they didn’t arrive quietly.
Zenyatta fans arrived in “Zenyatta fashion.”
Some of her fans dressed up in Zenyatta costumes.
Many cloaked themselves in the colors of her teal and pink racing silks.
And, all throughout the track, various signs were displayed by fans in a show of support for the mare to win the Classic for a second time.
Before the race was run, Zenyatta had her own makeshift “winner’s circle” throughout the crowd.
It was her circle of friends.
Zenyatta’s fans weaved throughout the crowd with signs that highlighted her perfect 19-0 winning record.
And, many of her friends sported “Zenyatta gear” that rooted her toward a twentieth victory in her homecoming to the Breeder’s Cup.
Yet, Zenyatta’s friends weren’t just captivated by her perfect record.
They were captivated by Zenyatta herself.
Her fans demonstrated unapologetic love for the mare.
And, love isn’t lost very easily.
Fans camped out all day around the paddock to catch a glimpse of Zenyatta’s patented dance moves prior to the Classic.
For many of her friends, it was a foregone conclusion that Zenyatta would win the Breeder’s Cup Classic.
They had come in droves to witness an unprecedented victory.
As Zenyatta broke from the gates, laughter rang throughout the crowd when the racetrack announcer noted that Zenyatta was “dead last” in the early stages of the race.
Of course she was dead last. As usual, Zenyatta was so far back in the field that she seemed to be running in a different race.
Yet, in truth, she was running for a different victory.
It was the race toward immortality.
During the final moments of the Classic, Zenyatta passed ten horses, including the Preakness winner, in a majestic flight that had the crowd on its’ feet and nearly all eyes on one single mare. Many people began to scream “She’s won it!” as Zenyatta bounded down the stretch to catch her last rival – Blame.
Yet, Blame wasn’t willing to curtsy to the Queen. He dug in as Zenyatta drew close and shot his stubborn nose in her face.
A hush fell across the crowd.
Zenyatta had lost the Classic.
Blame pranced into the winner’s circle and was draped in the Breeders’ Cup Classic garland. He won clean, simple and straightforward. And, no one can dispute his victory. He raced an undefeated supermare and beat her fair and square.
But, in defeat, Zenyatta clinched another type of victory.
As she stood outside the winner’s circle, the crowd rose to deliver a standing ovation to Zenyatta.
Many people cried at the sight of her losing.
They stood speechless as they watched their vision of perfection slip away.
Yet, in the moments that followed, Zenyatta showed a new vision of perfection.
It was the immortal kind.
There was a heartbroken sentiment that shot through many parts of the crowd, social networking sites and in the living rooms of television viewers across the nation.
The sentiment showed a true love for the mare, even in defeat.
She had won hearts during her journey in racing.
And, love beats trophies and garlands.
Zenyatta proved that one to be true.
This morning, Zenyatta hosted a “Meet and Greet” for her fans and friends outside her barn at Churchill Downs race track.
At first, it seemed like Zenyatta didn’t get the memo. The horse that lost was holding a “Meet and Greet” immediately following a defeat?
Zenyatta doesn’t follow the typical formalities in racing and its’ brought some not-so-typical fans into the sport.
At Barn 41 this morning, a perfect Thoroughbred invited her fans for a visit.
It was a different kind of winner’s circle for Zenyatta.
Zenyatta showed a few of her trademark dance moves.
And, the fans smiled.
Zenyatta showed personality in greeting new faces.
And, the fans flocked toward her presence.
Zenyatta promenaded past the crowd.
And, the fans held “Zenyatta” signs in support.
Zenyatta straightened her neck to pose for pictures.
And, the fans stood in line to get a snapshot with Zenyatta.
Zenyatta appeared unconcerned about her loss in the Classic.
And, she put her fans at ease.
Zenyatta held court in her own winner’s circle this morning.
She relished in the love of her fans as they circled around her today.
Despite defeat, Zenyatta still reigns as “The Queen of Hearts.”
And, in doing so, she remains perfect at it.
To view more pictures of Zenyatta’s “Meet and Greet” today, please visit us on Facebook by clicking here.
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