In 2005 at the September Yearling Sale a dark daughter of Street Cry entered the ring. Zenyatta sold for $60,000 and walked into history.Thousands of youngsters pass through that sale ring..4,359 passed through that year with the sale topper going for $9,700,000. As hip number 703 she was related to a $75,000 money earner, looked like a nice prospect but many looked passed her. She would never sell again, but returned to Keeneland five years later for a retirement ceremony where it all began.
Of course it wasn’t just about this year. Zenyatta’s first start she dropped to last as was her signature style then won by three and a half lengths. In December 2007 she was a “bad start” at the first call and four wide. “Zenyatta is making a mockery of this field..here’s a future superstar!”
In 2008 in the Lady’s Secret Stakes people started watching as Hystericalady led the way until the stretch. “8 for 8 for Zenyatta – a champion’s effort”. She bounced up to the 2008 Lady’s Classic with a talent packed field including Ginger Punch, Music Note and Santa Teresita joining Hystericalady. Five wide and bearing down briefly, but winning fairly easy, Zenyatta raised the statistics. “A living legend 9 for 9…”
While many retire to breeding the connections decided to give some more races and opened with the Milady Handicap in 2009 and rolled four wide with stablemate Life is Sweet once again not being able to get past Zenyatta. She notched a second Lady’s Secret Stakes in a good field with Life is Sweet, Lethal Heat and one more time rolled from end to front. She’d done all expected of her so what to up the bar?
An eye towards the Breeder’s Cup Classic opened up a win for the Ladies Classic for Life Is Sweet. The critics came forth – she’d never stand up against ‘the boys’. Zenyatta doesn’t read.
There was a problem loading and late scratch of a competitor in the 2009 Classic but it never rattled Zenyatta. As so many times before she dropped back towards the end of the field, facing a good bunch of colts. She came flying and passed Gio Ponti becoming the only female to ever win the Classic. “Truly one of the most incredible performances you’ll ever see…” 14 wins and time after time never stopped.
What was next? Retirement. She was five years old…but going into the sixth year owner Jerry and Ann Moss weighed options. She was sound. She was a fan favorite. She was nearing the all time win record of 19 consecutive wins. Trainer John Shirreffs had in his barn a filly that is a once in a lifetime horse.
In a change of heart, one more year and a race for history was the option chosen and Zenyatta rolled to a win in the 2010 Santa Margarita Handicap, toying with a good field. She won the Lady’s Secret Stakes for a third time. The interest in Zenyatta had reached a fever pitch. The crowds drowned out the race call as the big mare galloped past a game 3 year old filly, Switch.
She tied the consecutive record and on Breeders Cup day had little to lose as she entered the Classic. If she won she’d be the all time record holder for consecutive wins and one of two to win a Breeders Cup Classic twice consecutively.
As 19 times before she started last in a deeply talented field that included Lookin At Lucky, Quality Road, First Dude and Blame. She was back and looking for room to run but swung wide and came flying. Blame and Zenyatta matched strides and in a heart stopping finish for the first time the head in front was not hers. Blame stayed very gutsy in determination to not let her past.
Certainly no disgrace to her and it took a heck of a horse to do it. The records and statistics are but one aspect of Zenyatta’s story. Her prancing ‘dance moves’ before each race endeared her to fans – the more they’d cheer the more she’d dance.
As a racing writer Steve Haskin has seen many top horses come and go. As his topic it was clear it wasn’t just racing that made her special. It was HER.
Trainer Shirreffs told him “There are ladies who come to the barn and they’re literally shaking,” he said. “They’re sweating and crying. One lady, who is a school teacher from Santa Barbara, said the first time she came to see Zenyatta she was in a wheel chair; she couldn’t walk. She said Zenyatta inspired her to push herself and try to walk. Before we left for Kentucky, she visited the barn and she was carrying three cameras and was walking.”
Many turned out as Zenyatta bid farewell to California and more braved the cold to see her arrive in Kentucky. She is retired now and settling in at Lane’s End Farm. ” “There have been so many calls that I don’t know the number and they’ve been nonstop since it was announced (that Zenyatta would be boarded at Lane’s End). People mainly want to come to see her and they’re from all over the country. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. She’s like a rock star.”
This is the home of A.P.Indy, champion Curlin, English Channel, Pleasantly Perfect, Quality Road, Rock Hard Ten and many other world reknowned stallions. The public is interested in one mare.
Settling in just before Christmas Zenyatta was turned out briefly for the cameras, taped for the fans and with visits from the team who cared for her through her career. Several days of hand walking, as is normal for “letting down” race horses, helped Zenyatta wind down.
She had several handlers present to reduce the chances of injury as she snorted, flagged her tail and bounded across the snow, running for the love of running. The cameras clicked as she bucked and ran then stopped, then ran off again.
There have been other horses who have captured the imagination. She didn’t shatter time records like Secretariat. She fell just inches short of retiring undefeated like Personal Ensign. She wasn’t quite like FunnyCide or Smarty Jones. She was one of a few that is held in the same breath as Ruffian. But there is something about her that is all race horse and yet the horse we all identify with. There’s the posing and strutting and prancing ready to tear up the track and there’s the gentle horse that allows a sick fan to touch her ears.
She gave us memories on the track. She set some records that put the bar high for all horses and especially for mares. She ran at six against horses half her age. She answered every question, danced every dance and held no excuses. Now as she makes her home in Kentucky it becomes the impossible task.
What stallions are worthy of consideration? There are some exciting possibilities. But any has the impossible task. Like Secretariat she has the inconceivable task of reproducing herself. That’s a big order – and will take a sire and the breath of God to create it.
The other is if she’ll be Horse of the Year or if that will go to Blame, who is the only horse to ever defeat her and in the Classic. Arguments can be made either way, but whether she gets the nod or not, in the hearts of thousands she’s already horse of a lifetime.