Well, I was right. The Breeder’s Cup was great. It was historic. Zenyatta gave us a performance like the champion she is. It just didn’t end the way any of us wanted. It was horse racing. And it was pretty wonderful.
Yes, wonderful. We got to see a thrilling (and sadly overshadowed) performance by the phenomenal mare Goldikova in the Breeder’s Cup Mile, making her the first horse to win a Breeder’s Cup race three years in a row. And boy was it impressive. Watch it here. Then watch this video of her groom celebrating. That’s why people get involved with horse racing. There’s your thrill of victory folks!
I was very impressed by the two year old Uncle Mo, who is undoubtedly the Derby buzz horse with his impressive win in the Juvenile. I thought he was dead in the water at the top of the stretch but he dug in and just kept on pulling away. A lot can happen between now and the first Saturday in May, but he gave us a memorable performance to get us through the next few months.
And then there was the Classic. I don’t think there were many who were rooting against the big mare to make it home first yesterday. I sat with my friend watching pre-race coverage, nervous as the minutes to post ticked down. Then they were off, and we were silent, but then the concern crept in. “She looks uncomfortable.” “She’s so far back.” More silence, as she settled in and started to move on the backstretch, picking off horses, getting back in the game. Then she came through the turn and it was a quiet “No, Mike, not the rail.” And then any semblance of calm or concern left as we both cheered her on, willing her to move forward as she was checked and swung out from behind the wall of horses in front of her. Of course she’s going to make it, this is what she always does, she puts you in the game with her, makes you will her with every bone in your body to go, go, go. She was going to make it there first, but it would be close, after all she had so much trouble. Then she hit the wire. Silence again. “Damnit.” “Wait, who was the five again?” “Blame.”
And after all of that—the lead up, the nervous anticipation as the race ran—there was just defeat. And shock. And then growing appreciation for what this amazing athlete just did, what she accomplished, and what she lost by the slimmest of margins.
I personally think that she was the best horse in that race. Not to take anything away from Blame, who gave us a thrill of a ride too by digging in those last brutal moments. But I do think that Zenyatta lost nothing in that defeat. She quieted all her detractors with those last, gusty moves. What a game mare. What heart. I think her legend will only grow in the years to come; her accomplishment yesterday will be talked about for generations. Great horses do loose. After all, even Man O’ War had his Upset.
I was at the track this morning, and the talk was all about her. The tone was respectful, almost reverent as everyone offered their opinions on the race. People spoke of how she was the best horse they’d seen, what a horse she was to overcome so much. How the horse with the better trip won. But for a lot of them, myself included, the impact she seemed to have on the fans—hard core and casual alike—will be a special footnote in our memories. One person I spoke with said they had never heard a group of people watching a simulcast cheer that loudly as she came down the stretch, and how they’ll never forget the shocked silence after the wire. Another commented on the amount of Zenyatta hats at Suffolk Downs and the amount of people, certainly not regulars, who had come out that day to see a little history.
I’ll remember leaving after the race with a crowd of people, many more than I’d ever seen that time of night before, all of us collectively nursing our wounds and reflecting on the day. But that’s horse racing. It’s that bittersweet pain that comes with a loss by the tightest of margins. But it’s also the knowledge that there will be other great races, other tight finishes and dominant performances to look forward to. How lucky are we?