JC / Railbird

A Historical Curiosity?

Andrew Beyer on why Zenyatta isn’t an all-time great racehorse:

My judgment is based partly on the fact that she has compiled her record by running mostly against moderate female competition — such as the field in Lady’s Secret Stakes on Saturday. But the main reason for questioning Zenyatta’ place in history is that fact that she is a synthetic-track specialist, albeit the best in the brief history of these surfaces. In my view, it is a dubious distinction to be the poster girl for the surfaces that have robbed the sport here of its unique character.

The surface issue hardly registers, and will even less in 20 years. What will always raise questions is her conservative campaigning, particularly this year.


Just a thought for those who will always question Zenyatta’s conservative campaign…what’s better? …an aggressive campaign that ends in injury, or an early retirement, OR, a conservative campaign, that spans 3 seasons, 18 consecutives wins, including 2 Breeder’s Cup races and possibly a third?
I know what I would want for my horse.

Posted by Susan on September 29, 2010 @ 9:36 pm

That article reads like self parody.

The haters should have come to their senses and let it go after the BC last year.

Posted by o_crunk on September 30, 2010 @ 10:33 am

Susan – only speaking for myself here, but my dislike of her conservative campaign isn’t a matter of questioning her ability (you said “question her campaign”, I’m not sure if you mean that as in “could she still win if not not conservatively campaigned”). My dislike of the approach is that I really don’t believe it would be that much harder for her to win races like the Pacific Classic, Hollywood Gold Cup, etc vs. races like Lady’s Secret, Clement Hirsch, etc. Of course, that’s just my opinion. Everyone is entitled to their own.

And it’s not a blanket statement re: aggressive campaign vs. conservative either…. it’s that I believe that Zenyatta specifically could just as easily win in open company races as those restricted to females.

Generally speaking, meaning not directed specifically at Susan, I’m not sure why people seem to get so annoyed by this concept – that there are fans who’d like to see Z put away an open company field with more frequency. Every time I bring it up on Twitter people react like a) I’m anti-Z b) it’s somehow an offensive point of view or c) assume that I think she can’t win in open company. It would be d) none of the above.

Posted by dana on September 30, 2010 @ 12:54 pm

I’ll add one more thought re: aggressive campaign equaling early retirement and conservative campaign equaling longevity to hopefully deter any “yeah, but look at what happened to RA comments”.

I don’t think that RA vs. Z is a good comparison regarding campaign type and longevity. Asking a 3yo filly to run against older males after running almost in exclusively in open company doesn’t seem to be a one to one to a 5yo mare running in opening company, where I believe she would not be all out in every race. Was she all out in the BC Classic? (Sincere question, I can’t access the replay from work!). From memory I don’t believe she was, which is in part what I base my belief that adding an open company race here and there to her campaign would not have significantly impacted her well being.

Posted by dana on September 30, 2010 @ 1:31 pm


First of all, it is refreshing to debate this subject in a dignified manner. I did not think you were questioning her ability. But what some people fail to understand, who continue with this frame of mind… she should’ve run here, she should’ve run there, are maybe more racing fan, less horseperson.I’m talking in general terms here. Now that’s not a criticism, just an observation. I don’t think most fans understand how ridiculously difficult it is to keep a horse, mentally and physically sound, and performing successfully throughout a racing campaign. Not to mention a campaign that has lasted 3 years, in Grade I’s running against whoever showed up. It’s just impossible to do and it rarely happens. I’m glad Zenyatta has had some easy races. It’s all part of the journey of bringing her to the point she is at. And even the “easy ones” aren’t always so easy. If you read The Q&A with Hall Wiggins today, he said what many have said all along, and has been traditionaly true with many, many fillies over the years. RA was done after her Woodward, never to come back to her former self. This is why its risky to do this. Yes, when it works out, it’s historical but the horse pays the price, eventually, sooner or later.

So, if I had a choice, I would rather have the star that’s been conservatively managed, ( however, need I say, the Classic was not the conservative route last year, and more so, it will not be this year either) because in the end, it’s more fair to the horse. Unless we are under the shedrow with Zenyatta, how do we know how she was doing before the Pacific Classic, maybe she was only 90%? I think Z was managed to the minute and again, kudos to her people. I understand the way a fan thinks too. We feel shortchanged when these things go this way but I still will always side with what’s in the best interest of the horse, and I would guess that you would too, even if you have a different perspective. This stayed dignified, didn’t it?

Posted by Susan on September 30, 2010 @ 1:43 pm

Yes, very dignified, thank you! I don’t disagree with any of your points, but I still would prefer to have seen Z run in the Pacific Classic or the Hollywood Gold Cup. As you said, none of us are there with Mario in the shedrow, knowing her minute by minute and certainly I’m no horse person. But, I do think the Mosses’ could have been a tiny bit less conservative and still met their goals. But hey, that’s just my opinion! I also doubt the Pacific Classic, HGC was seriously on their radar vs they decided she was only 90% and therefore not ready (for example), or at least I didn’t see anything to that effect anywhere.

There was something else in the Wiggins Q&A that I thought was notable (that I thought all along), was that they brought RA back too soon this year. This whole year seemed like a big flub on team RA’s part. Back too early, equipment changes, changes in running style, downright panicky rides… it seemed to me like they lost confidence. We don’t know what they know but I thought the whole thing was weird. In my heart of hearts I feel like she could have come back a little better this year and notched a win or two.

But to answer your original question, I’d rather see an aggressive (well managed!) campaign. I love Z and am thrilled to have seen her in person (during her best performance at the BC!) but to me the Lady’s Secret feels like just one of the many races this weekend vs the race to see. Again, that’s just me. If I would have been asked this same question prior to RA & Z I probably would have answered conservatively campaigned & longevity, but being able to see examples of both was interesting.

Posted by dana on September 30, 2010 @ 3:22 pm

Oh hey, and did we just prove that people with different opinions can discuss RA & Z without being jackasses? Fingers crossed that no one ruins the party!

Posted by dana on September 30, 2010 @ 3:26 pm

But I have a confession to make… when I read Andy Beyer’s whole article yesterday, and saw the words “historical curiosity”, I just about lost it.It took me the whole afternoon to resume thinking clearly again.
I am green that you saw the Big Mare last year. I have been to EVERY Breeder’s Cup, except for the Cali ones. But I will be there this year and I can hardly wait.
I’m glad we chatted, it was fun. Visit my blog when you get the chance.

Posted by Susan on September 30, 2010 @ 3:40 pm

I didn’t even read the whole article, generally speaking I try to avoid the inflammatory stuff either way… but I did make it to this sentiment:

“The blogosphere is regularly filled with sharp rebukes for anybody who demeans Zenyatta or even suggests she is not one of the greatest racehorses of all time.”

That’s certainly been my experience on Twitter (and back when I used to blog, which was pretty much pre-RA vs Z general psychosis).

And I do visit your blog, nice stuff! If it’s any consolation I did not have a great view of the race…

Posted by dana on September 30, 2010 @ 4:06 pm

Dana, Susan,
You two are the voices of reason! Terrific discussion and valid points by each.

My two cents: I wish Z’s connections would’ve taken more shots vs. older males in the hdcp division. And judging by the entries, I don’t think Saturday’s Goodwood would’ve been much of a challenge for her anyway. However, the ultimate responsibility of an owner & trainer should be to do right by their horse and you can’t fault anything they’ve done from that standpoint. To keep horse sharp and healthy for that long is impressive to say the least.

One question regarding RA’s 2010 form. Instead of bringing her back too soon, maybe the real problem was giving her such a long layoff in the first place. Maybe if they had kept her in training, albeit with long breaks between starts, she would’ve maintained, if not eclipsed, her 2009 form. Just wonderin’ what if.

Posted by Steve M. on September 30, 2010 @ 4:25 pm

Ah ! Another voice of reason !
Here is my take on your thoughts about RA. I always had a question about the “layoff” As far as we can tell, she never left the track. So she was never “turned out” as is the usual , when a horse needs a mental/physical break for a long/difficult campaign. So, was there a reason for keeping her at the track , in a stall, not turned out on a farm for 3-4 months? Two things come to mind 1. an injury that required stall rest, or 2. they didn’t want to let her out of their sight, for some unexplained reason. Who knows. But, I remember as of the Eclipse Awards, she had only been galloping a few weeks. Big mystery,there. Don’t forget, she had a chip removed when in the Hal Wiggins barn. I mean that’s a routine thing, so maybe something like this happened again? We will never know. But the fact of the matter is, to my knowledge, she didn’t do anything for nearly 4 months. Now, IMO, that’s not a long time to recuperate after a race like the Woodward, and the tough campaign she had. She needed TIME. But again, we will never know what else, if anything , needed fixing. With year round racing, sometimes people forget, horses have just so many races in them during the year, at some point, they need a break. So Steve, while I understand where you are coming from, ( keep her in light training, more time between races, kind of like Zenyatta-style,) while that would make sense on some level, not in this situation, because the simple fact is that she was “gutted” after her punishing win the Woodward like Mr Wiggins said, and for that, she needed a rest. I would not be surprised
if she stayed exhausted for quite some time after that. Trouble is, we have always had to read between the lines with this crew. On that note, owners really don’t owe the fans any explanation about what goes on with their horses, but we are used to hearing it with others.

Posted by Susan on September 30, 2010 @ 5:01 pm

I think we should thank our hostess as Railbird provides the ideal place for dignified and thoughtful discussion!

Posted by dana on September 30, 2010 @ 6:25 pm

Good Idea Dana!
Thank you Jessica, you have an interesting and comfortable place to chat here. I intend to stop by every chance I get.

Posted by Susan on September 30, 2010 @ 6:38 pm

My pleasure! Thanks so much for such an excellent conversation.

Posted by Jessica on September 30, 2010 @ 6:55 pm

And it’s nice to see you blogging with such frequency again!

Posted by dana on September 30, 2010 @ 8:31 pm

Susan and Dana, nice read from both of you. I agree with you Susan, on RA’s time off. If this farm of Jess Jackson’s is so “wonderful” as he kindly calls it, then why wasn’t she there. When a horse needs time or has a possible injury, you always here how they are now at the farm to recoup. Not so for this poor filly. Many track people have commented she indeed was under stall rest for an injury. Who knows the truth and it is all over now.
I do own race horses and we do NOT over extend our horses. I agree with Hal Wiggins approach to training fillies and or mares. I don’t think it would be smart to overextend the likes of a Zenyatta when she has been pointed all along for the Classic. All in due time. You want a horse, especially a mare of her stature, ready to rumble in the big dance instead of an exhausted one who was running in the likes of the Hollywood Gold Cup etc. against males. Look what it did to poor RA last year. If you noticed this year, the white of her eye that she always eyeballed her competition was gone. The one man and team that brought her to this 3 year old career was gone and it eventually took the spark away from her.
Team Zenyatta knows they need that spark for her to compete in the BC Classic as they have been down this road before and already successful in two different divisions. That too, was not an easy task. Anything can go wrong in a horse race no matter of the competition. Certainly no one expected Persistently would beat RA. Her odds proved that.
One must think of the breeding shed and the ability of your mare to reproduce. Stressed mares have not been lucky producing a clone.

Posted by Anne on October 1, 2010 @ 10:53 am