Monday, November 8, 2010

Zenyatta Great, but Not Horse of the Year

I never doubted Zenyatta's greatness, though I have in the past felt others were greater or had a greater season. This year, Zenyatta left me feeling that maybe she had lost a step. She was not finishing off her races with that killer kick that left daylight between her and her opposition. She barely beat St. Trinians, a good, hard trying little mare, but by no means great. She then barely finished in front of Rinteval, who was of even less caliber. Her last prep, in the Ladies Secret, she finished a short neck in front of Switch, who like St. Trinians is a good filly, but should not be able to give the mighty Zenyatta such a scare.

After watching those close calls I had my doubts about Zenyatta being able to run down horses like Quality Road, Lookin at Lucky, and Blame over conventional dirt. In an epic edition of the Breeders Cup Classic, Zenyatta charged down the stretch like a runaway express train, passing every horse as though they were tied to a post. As the wire approached, the mighty amazon zeroed in on Blame the final horse standing in her path.

It was the scenario we had seen so many times before in this season, with daylight still between Zenyatta and her nearest opponent, with time rapidly running out. Every time Zenyatta got to the wire just in the nick of time. This time, as the lights shined down on the two battling horses, Blame did not relent, denying Zenyatta her second consecutive Classic and the unbeaten status of 20-20 by a head.

I did not think Zenyatta would win, but as she came charging down the stretch I was willing her to get there, willing her to get by just one last time. In this loss she gain more respect from me than any of her previous 19 victories. She ran her heart out, and for the first time laid her body down showing us every bit of speed and heart she possessed. It was a beautiful sight to behold.

Alas, the champion mare who has fallen short of Horse of the Year twice before will have to settle to second once again. Blame, the victor of the Breeders Cup Classic deserves that honor. Is he as well know as Zenyatta? No. Is he as charismatic? No. Is he the better horse of the two? Probably not. But Blame had the better season, ducking nobody and finishing behind only one horse this year.

His victories in the Stephan Foster and Whitney Handicaps were nothing short of spectacular. First running down a very formidable, loose on the lead Battle Plan, while first flashing his brilliant turn of foot that saw him turn a four and a half length disadvantage to a 1 length victory in one furlong. In the Whitney he faced off with the brilliant Quality Road, the leading candidate for Horse of the Year, at the time. The son of Elusive Quality had things his own way early and still could not with stand the late charge of Blame.

Blame did have one hiccup this year, when finishing a surprising second to Haynesfield, who routed the field in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. With the pace so slow and the track playing to the favor Haynesfield speedy running style, Blame closed valiantly, but could mount a serious challenge to the winner.

With the Classic victory, Blame ran the race of his life and redeemed his status and clinched Horse of the Year. Does Zenyatta deserve to be honored? Yes, she does, but Blame settled things where they are supposed to be settled...On the track. He is your Horse of the Year.


  1. Well said Dani. You echo what a lot of people are thinking. I, on the other hand, am not so sure. I need more time to digest Blame and Zenyatta's comparative years, and also what they meant to racing. It is proving a very difficult decision for me.

  2. I think Zenyatta should be and will be Horse of the Year. There are no rules on what determines Horse of Year, some people say it is "Body of Work" or "Best Horse" but it is still left up to the voter to decide what they think is important. Is it OK to have Goldikova win an Eclipse while only starting once in the US? Does Curlin's Dubai World Cup count? If people vote against a horse because of the surface they run on or what state they are based in or how many times they get in an airplane why can't someone vote based on what a horse has done for racing? I don't see how anyone who saw the Classic on Saturday can say that Zenyatta wasn't the best horse in the race. This year reminds me of the year that Skip Away was Horse of the Year, the year before he won the Breeders Cup Classic by 6 lengths but for reasons I still don't understand Favorite Trick, a 2 year old, was Horse of the Year. The next year Skip Away had a good year but was soundly beaten in the Classic by an undefeated Awesome Again. Skip Away won Horse of the Year that year anyway, partly I think because the voters thought he was too good of a horse never to win the award and some regreted not voting for him the year before. It may be Horse of the Year but I see no rule that says a horse's entire career can't be a factor, especially since Zenyatta was the best horse in the Classic and has done so much for racing.

  3. Mike,

    Trends from the last couple of years show Blame will probably get it. There may be no written rule, but the name of the award is Horse of the YEAR. Not of three years, best career, of of the decade or day, it is YEAR. Curlin did not just win the World Cup, he came back and won the Stephan Foster, Woodward and Gold Cup. He tried two new surfaces and even though he lost he was never more than 3 lengths back of the winner. He accomplished more, even w/o the World Cup.

    Blame and Zenyatta were the two leading candidates for HOTY, Blame got to the wire first and NEVER let Zenyatta past. One could make the case this gritty horse likes a fight. Look at some of his most notable wins, like the Foster, Whitney and Clark. He never made the lead early, ever, he always had a fight. One could make the case he made the lead idled and rebroke, when Zenyatta came to him. Either way it was a head to head match and Blame won. Before that he had beaten much stiffer competition than she had.

    If this year goes with all the others, Blame is you Horse of the Year.

  4. The name of the award is also HORSE of the Year, anyway we disagree. But slightly off topic, I know you are a big fan of Rachel Alexandra, after watching the Ladies Classic I couldn't help thinking that Rachel would have had a great chance of winning the race. If she is not injured in some way, it seems that Jess Jackson really made a mistake in retiring her before she had a chance go out as a Breeders Cup winner.

  5. Good post and excellent points. I had initially the same exact opinion, Blame won it on the track, but I just can't side with him on this one. Zenyatta won the heart and even though her record this year does not stack up (with the exception of the Classic) to the stiff competition that Blame has consistently faced all year, she was the horse of the year in the sense that she overcame the media bias and brought the sport back into the limelight for a time.
    It was incredible on Breeders Cup day Saturday morning when I was leaving work someone asked why I had taken the evening off and I said it was because I was going to spend the day watching the Breeders' Cup, expecting that no one would know what that was. I was shocked (and thrilled to death) when about five of the guys in the back room began to shout out "Go Zenyatta" or "Go baby go". Come to find out almost all of my co-workers knew about her which was awesome and exciting! Not only did they know about her but they watched her race too and were genuinely disappointed that she had lost while at the same time amazed at how well she performed. Also I found that every single one of my co-workers knew of Zenyatta after the Classic even more than knew before it was run.
    It's things like that that make me think Zenyatta really should win the award this year. She may have lost it on the track, but she certainly captured the hearts of millions of fan across the globe.
    It's heart over "black and white" record this year I think.