JC / Railbird

Zenyatta

An Homage, For Now

Zenyatta’s Hollywood stall stands empty, a shrine to the mare:

There are photos of Zenyatta on the walls of the stall. There are drawings and paintings that Sherriffs has received from Zenyatta’s fans.

I’d like to see a photo, before the racing secretary insists on a new inhabitant.

Where To?

Jaycito’s next start could be the Santa Anita Derby, or maybe the Wood:

“He might stay home, I’m not sure yet. I don’t have to make any decisions right now so I’m not going to,” Baffert said. “I know one thing: The horse needs more ground. He needs a mile and a quarter.”

If he stays at Santa Anita, he’ll face San Felipe winner Premier Pegasus again. If he ships to Aqueduct, he’ll meet Uncle Mo. Seems like a question of to whom trainer Bob Baffert would prefer the colt finish second in his final Derby prep.

Steve Davidowitz and Mike Maloney share the same top three Derby prospects, and Jaycito’s not among them. Soldat breaks up the trio in this week’s PDI.

After NYC OTB closed last December, some predicted illegal bookies would pick up business. Bookmakers tell the NY Post there’s indeed been a spike: “I do a few hundred dollars in bets in a day to a few thousand.”

Back to Bernardini for Zenyatta; her first pregnancy didn’t take.

Zenyatta Connections

Dazzling praise for Zenyatta’s 2-year-old half-sister by Bernardini:

“She has as much presence as any young horse I’ve ever been around,” Robinson said. “It scares me. She’s completely herself, very independent, but in a good way. She’s sweet, but not sugary. Very businesslike. She was definitely the dominant one, but in a kind way, with the other yearlings. I watched Zenyatta at Lane’s End several weeks ago when they first introduced her to the other maidens, and it’s the same thing. It’s not a kick-your-ass kind of dominance, but it’s like they just knew who the boss was. Eblouissante is very much that way.”

Here’s a photo of Eblouissante from last summer, giving a look that’s very like her Horse of the Year sibling. She’ll go to trainer John Shirreffs later this year.

Uncle Mo is on Facebook and Twitter and owner Mike Repole credits Team Zenyatta. “I’ve always connected with products that connected with me.”

3/1/11 Update: Eblouissante now has her own Facebook fan page.

Thursday Notes

You’ve probably heard? Zenyatta will be bred to Bernardini. If you’re into nicks, it’s a match that gets an A++ or a B+, depending on methodology. And while the most anticipated foal of the 21st century hasn’t even been conceived yet (that’ll probably happen in February, if all goes as planned), it’s apparently not too early to think of names. (Bernyatta? Zendini?) I don’t know enough about breeding to call the mating conservative or not, but from a handicapping perspective, it’s an intriguing mix of flash and substance, class and speed. Bernardini’s first-crop runners were precocious and versatile juveniles; Zenyatta was sound through a three-year career and never faltered on track.

Early Kentucky Derby favorite Uncle Mo is listed as the 128-pound highweight on the 2010 Experimental Free Handicap, announced today by the Jockey Club. That’s the highest assignment since Favorite Trick was weighted 128 in 1997.

Boys at Tosconova will miss the Holy Bull at Gulfstream on Sunday. The Rick Dutrow trainee hasn’t seemed himself since a work on January 13. Santiva will also pass on the Holy Bull. The Kentucky Jockey Cup winner, just getting back into training, could make his first start of the year in the Fountain of Youth.

Recovered from the hind ankle injury that knocked him out of Saratoga and a fall campaign, Sovereign Default returns on Saturday at Gulfstream in race five, a seven-furlong allowance for 3-year-olds over the main track that drew seven starters. The colt attracted attention after winning his well-bet debut by two lengths at Belmont Park last July 15, a maiden race that yielded two next out winners in Stay Thirsty (who followed his maiden win with a second to Boys at Tosconova in the Hopeful) and Air Support (who won the Pilgrim Stakes).

I suppose this story’s good news is that 84 past-posters weren’t able to cash.

4:30 PM Addendum: Entries are now up for Sunday’s Holy Bull and Forward Gal Stakes. As often in recent years, the potential Oaks fillies look like a more interesting bunch, with Pocahontas Stakes winner Dancinginherdreams and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies runner-up R Heat Lightning, both making their first starts since November, topping the seven-horse Forward Gal field. The Holy Bull drew nine, including Dialed In, Mucho Macho Man, and Major Gain.

Feeling Recognized

Trainer John Shirreffs on what Zenyatta winning 2010 Horse of the Year meant:

“Historically, it was just so important that she got that credit next to her name, I think. It just stamps her as one of the elite horses,” Shirreffs said. “No matter what emotions there are, I mean I’m emotionally tied to her, but when the industry recognizes a horse as Horse of the year, that is the ultimate compliment.”

Expert Opinion

John Pricci on the DRF bloc voting Blame as Horse of the Year:

The shocking portion, however, was Daily Racing Form’s tally, a margin that looked very much like a third judge at a heavyweight title fight who was looking the other way while a battle was joined.

Joe Drape on the same subject:

Not surprising, but how un-expert. (via @raypaulick) DRF block went for Blame 38-21. How can DRF say it’s the authority on horse racing?

The argument could be made that the DRF bloc made the least shocking, most expert pick, going for a male winner of multiple Grade 1s over main track dirt with a narrow edge in speed figures (five triple digits to Zenyatta’s four) — a horse who beat the other the one time they met in the race that everyone said would decide the title (before the race was even run). They voted the dogma, which, most years, nicely aligns with what happens on track. That it didn’t this year says much more about how ultimately unsatisfying both leading HOTY contenders’ 2010 campaigns were than it does about DRF voters’ judgment.

Based on the rancorous debates of the past couple years surrounding the HOTY title, Todd Lieber argues in the Thoroughbred Times that Eclipse voters should have set criteria to guide their votes:

It would be up to others with far more knowledge and greater standing in the industry than this correspondent to determine what those criteria should be, but since I’ve raised the issue I will at least hazard a suggestion. The honor should go to the horse with the most consistent record of achievement at the highest level of racing during the year. To be sure, this will not stifle debate, but it would at least focus the questions.

Well, that’s awfully vague. How about a points system for HOTY?

Congratulations, Ramon

Ramon Dominguez’s 15-year career as a jockey has been more journeyman than money rider. Before moving his tack to New York in 2009, where he swept the leading rider title at every NYRA meet that year and scored his 4000th career win at Aqueduct last March, he dominated the mid-Atlantic circuit, only occasionally breaking through nationally, as he did when Better Talk Now won the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Turf or Scrappy T collided with Afleet Alex at the top of the Pimlico stretch in the 2005 Preakness Stakes.

In 2010, hard work and talent not only made Dominguez one of the most consistent and capable jockeys in the game, it also made him one of the most successful, with earnings of $16,911,880 and 369 wins, including 43 stakes, five of those G1s. Last night, out-polling Garrett Gomez 124-60, Dominguez won his first Eclipse Award. Of the honor, NYRA handicapper Andy Serling said it best: “Glad to see Ramon Dominguez win the Eclipse for Jockey of the Year. People like him make me proud to work in this industry.”

More Dominguez! Here’s a Flickr gallery of the jockey, with stakes winners Better Talk Now, Gio Ponti, Haynesfield, Fabulous Strike …

More Eclipse Awards: Steve Crist counts votes, Claire Novak recaps, Bill Dwyre celebrates with Horse of the Year Zenyatta’s connections (“I’m so happy for the fans”), Foolish Pleasure lists. And even more reactions via Raceday 360 …

Zenyatta Feminista?

I’ve tried to stay away from the 2010 Horse of the Year debate. I don’t have a vote, and if I did, I might have been tempted toward the same conclusion as Alan Shuback before narrowly landing on Zenyatta as my pick for the honor. That would seem to put me on the same side of the debate as most female fans and voters. Steve Davidowitz, opening up his HOTY vote to fans for the second year in a row, reports quite a skew in the responses he’s received:

Get this: The actual tally of 147 fans that sent me E-mails and posted comments on this website was an astonishing 132 for Zenyatta and only 15 for Blame!

That imbalance of opinion similarly was skewed by the presence of so many female voters in my poll, as only 24 men voted, while 123 women participated.

The male vote was split down the middle, 12 for Blame and 12 for Zenyatta.

Looking at this another way, only three of the 123 women in my poll voted for Blame!

Turf writers’ ballots revealed so far are running along similar lines: Four of five women* have voted for Zenyatta; nine of 19 men for Blame, nine for Zenyatta.

12:00 PM Addendum: *Four of six, with Alicia Wincze casting a vote for Blame.

1/6/11 Addendum: Wow, Jennie Rees — who said she was going to vote Blame HOTY in a blog post a couple weeks ago — didn’t vote for either leading contender. “Very late in the game, I decided just to not vote in the Horse of the Year category — I made the decision not to make a decision.”

The Must-Reads, 2010

It’s no exaggeration to say that every year I bookmark, tweet, or link here to hundreds of horse racing features, columns, and blog posts — stories and opinions that catch my attention for a turn of phrase, the quality of storytelling, the depth of research, an unusual argument, or a striking insight. A few each year — like the 10 pieces below — are especially memorable.

The Making of ‘Legends’ (Pat Forde/ESPN)
“The present is another matter. The present stings a bit. The present is Kentucky Derby week, and it offers vivid evidence of how brutally hard it is even for learned horsemen with a lot of money to win a Derby — or to simply reach the starting gate.”

The Linemakers (John Scheinman/Pimlico)
“It is no secret the man gambles with gusto, a word that derives from the Latin gustus, or tasting. Carulli is all appetite and, like the bear he resembles, doesn’t like to be disturbed while concentrating.”

The Best Broodmare of All Time? (Alicia Wincze/Lexington Herald-Leader)
“Though Hasili was a stakes winner on the track and had a solid pedigree in her corner, nothing in her form could have indicated the impact she would have on the sport once she entered the breeding shed.”

What Makes the Great Ones Great? (Jay Hovdey/DRF)
“No question, in terms of personality type, the great ones appear to be happy in their work.”

Why We Love Secretariat (Meghan O’Rourke/Slate)
“In the moment when he pulls away from Sham, his brilliant archrival (who would’ve been a champion in any other year), we have the sense of an animal exceeding the boundaries of the category of animal.”

Forlorn Filly Comes from Nowhere (Bill Finley/NY Times)
“A few days after he bought a modestly bred horse from a friend named Don Hunt, Tim Snyder took a moment to reflect. He had no money, no horse trailer to get his new acquisition to where he needed to go and a filly that had been rejected by nearly everyone else who had come in contact with her. The horse had a clubfoot, a bad shoulder, a reputation for being slow and was blind in one eye, reason enough for Snyder to second-guess what he had just done.”

Who Really Invented Race Charts? (Kevin Martin/Colin’s Ghost)
“Whatever the case might be, it was Brunell who had the foresight to put race charts and later past performances into a daily publication dedicated to racing. While the above puts his role as ‘originator’ in doubt, no one can deny that he popularized the tools that all horseplayers have been dependent on for more than a century.” [See also, Martin’s follow-up post.]

Rachel’s Place in History (Gary West/West Points)
“Most of us had never seen anything like Rachel Alexandra, and for having seen her, I’m grateful.”

Frankel’s Rise No Romantic Dream (Chris McGrath/Independent)
“Despite the present, witless tendency to treat them as characters in search of an author, men such as Frankie Dettori and Henry Cecil could never be adequately prefigured by a script.”

A Vote for Horse Racing (Claire Novak/ESPN)
“For now, suffice it to say it is the opinion here that a vote for Zenyatta is, simply put, a vote for horse racing. To recognize this kind of runner as vital to the sport’s survival is common sense, not emotional gibberish as some would choose to believe.”

What’s missing? Add your must-reads from the year past in the comments …

Saturday Notes

NYRA keeps up its efforts to capture displaced OTB bettors, adding dark day simulcasting at Aqueduct and more bus routes from the city to the track. According to DRF, another 74 NYRA Rewards accounts were opened on Thursday, bringing the number of new accounts opened over the past couple weeks to 300. Friday’s on-track handle (which includes money bet through NYRA’s ADW) was $572,687, or $36,327 more than Thursday’s on-track handle; $22,125 more than the previous Friday. Slow, but steady gains? They must be hoping the pace picks up a little. Adding streaming video to the service would be a boon, but making that little change is tied up in the NYSRWB and, quite possibly, the legislature. Brooklyn Backstretch has been keenly following that part of the story.

Meanwhile, on Friday, the state senate Republicans announced the newly formed Task Force on the Revitalization of the Racing Industry in New York. Said task force member senator John Bonacic: “Racing is more than about people sitting in betting parlors. It is about the sport — making the tracks viable as racing entities — not just places where VLTs are played. We need to focus on helping the breeders and horsemen since they are the infrastructure that develops a successful racing product. We then need to market racing in a manner which brings fans to the track and generates interest in the sport overall.” Good luck, New Yorkers. [12/13/10 Addition: Over on ESPN, Paul Moran comments: “But wherever there is a New York politician, there is never the lack of calamity.”]

Juvenile graded stakes racing winds down for the year with the Hollywood Starlet, which drew eight fillies, today and the Hollywood Futurity next Saturday. “A field of 13 or 14 is shaping up for the 30th running of the race,” including JP’s Gusto and Delta Jackpot winner Gourmet Dinner. Joe Talamo, back from injury, will be on JP’s Gusto once again. The jockey rode the horse through his first three starts. Pat Valezuala then had the mount through the Breeders’ Cup, winning the Del Mar Futurity and Best Pal with JP’s Gusto.

What a process, getting Zenyatta settled into farm life.

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