The start of the Breeder's Cup Classic was painful to watch. Zenyatta always comes out slowly, like a freight train that is just getting moving, but this time she was so slow that it looked like something was wrong with her. Oh no, not another terrible injury in horseracing!
Her gait looked wrong. But then I saw that she was bothered by all of the dirt in her face, something she wasn't used to, having raced on the dirt only twice before against smaller fields.
Eventually, jockey Mike Smith steadied her and she started looking like herself again. Only she was so, so far behind. How could she possibly win again with so much ground to make up? Then she stirred us up as she began her patented stretch run, coming from further back than anyone had reason to think she could win from, and I, along with so many others, found myself screaming: "Go Zenyatta!! GO!" "You can do it!"
And then, she ran out of real estate and got beat by this much: ..................................
There were those approaching this finale, especially on the east coast where they're dismissive of horses from the west, who doubted that Zenyatta was the real thing. They said she'll get embarrassed on the dirt against the boys and that she'll have to deal with lactic acid build-up that she'd never experienced. They said she was a Polytrack phenom who wouldn't handle the dirt.
Clearly, they were wrong.
I actually figured that the dirt surface would help her in her deep closing style since dirt would provide a more resistive surface for her to bounce off of.
But what I didn't anticipate, nor it looks like, did her team, was the dirt in her face from the stampede of horses ahead of her. Yet this extraordinary athlete adapted in seconds. This ability to adapt and her otherworldly physical skills were evident from her very first race when despite not really knowing what she was doing, despite being too big for the starting gate, despite turning her head around and looking about her during the first turn as if she didn't know that she was in a race, she overcame her gawkiness and inexperience and destroyed the field.
Yesterday she overcame her agitation about the dirt in her face in the first eighth or so of the race and nearly pulled off a miracle win that no movie could credibly re-enact.
Zenyatta should not retire yet. She should definitely go to Dubai for the World Cup on March 26th and race against the best in the world. And she should get some training runs against a group of other horses on the dirt so that she can fully accomodate herself to the dirt in her face. I know, they probably never do that. But why not? This is an uncommon athlete, someone we may never see the likes again ever, who merits an uncommon strategy.
She should then run several races on the dirt against the boys and prove without any naysayers this time that she is one of the greatest of all time. Why not? She can't ever reproduce herself through her progeny. Let her run another year.
Jerry and Ann Moss, are you listening?