Monday, August 9, 2010

8 Reasons Why I am a Zenyatta Fan

Zenyatta won her 18th straight race on Saturday, at Del Mar. She is currently zeroing in on being the all-time money winning mare and all-time grade 1 stakes winning mare. With only a couple starts left in her career, I thought I would make a list on why I like her.

1. She's Undefeated

- I am a handicapper and I know she is not racing Ruffian or Seattle Slew or Spectacular Bid in her races. But she wins. Horses have bad days, and eventually they lose because of an allergy, an underlying sickness, overwork, lameness or 100 other factors we see day to day. As a horse owner myself (like many of you I am sure) where I have expected my horse to be great, and he throws in a clunker it is a non-negotiable part of this sport. But she does something that is rare and refreshing in racing - she delivers. Federal Express should hire her as a spokeshorse.

2. She Confounds Figure and Software Makers

- Invariably, after a win from any horse, go to the chat boards. Someone will say "I would like to see the Beyer before judging if this horse is any good". It's like somehow that blowout victory while being hounded in 45 and run at again in 09, but still winning easily does not mean much until we see a number. Zenyatta, as a deep closer who does not run like a scared cat, and whose final time is dictated by pace, runs to what she has to. If it is a 95, it's a 95. If it is a higher number, so far in her career she has done that. As a sharp handicapper once said on a chat board "put her in an allowance race at Beulah, she'll sit off a 49 half, win by two and run an 80". In other words, throw her figures in the trash and just watch her run instead.

As well, some software can just not get her pegged. I looked at two software printouts this weekend for her race. She was picked for second in both. Not being a speed horse, in a speed-laden game, it seems to make computers wonder what in the hell is going on with this mare. She is the only horse I have ever seen that can outwit a micro-chip.

3. She's Owned and Trained By People Who Respect Her

-Yes, the "sportsmanship" label is hung on them again and again and I too would like to see her race better horses and ship all over, because I am a fan. However, they have kept this mare going for three years at a high level, and they have treated her like a flesh and blood animal, not a throw away inanimate object. As well, two straight trips to the Classic (if she gets there this year) is not exactly unsportsmanlike in the first place.

Zenyatta was a growthy mare who had some issues training down. She also had talent and the connections knew it, but they still waited on her, where she did not make her debut until very late as a three year old. How many barns, only considered with stakes wins as a sophomore and potential glory, do that? Very few. If she was in one of a hundred other barns she is rushed, started earlier, and more than likely never races 18 races, let alone wins 18 in a row. They would have respected me as a race fan, but they would not have respected her.

Bravo Jerry. Bravo John. If people ran their stock like you do, this sports breakdown rate would be cut in half overnight and synthetic tracks would never have been even looked at, let alone installed. Don't worry about what handicappers like me want to do with your horse; you've done just fine.

4. She is a Superstar

- In a game where horses are retired so soon, where just as the public latches on to them they are gone, it is nice to see what this mare has done in this regard. This weekend Zenyatta trended on twitter. This is no small feat for a race horse. By my estimation over 10,000 tweets featured this animal and her win at Del Mar.Wow.

As well, we see stories in the press like this: "Mrs. Davis arrived wearing an unbuttoned Zenyatta jersey over a Zenyatta T-shirt, toting a bag bearing a Zenyatta button, then claimed her souvenir Zenyatta glasses and confessed that she would not have made the trip for any lesser animal."

And she has lit up young people like this little one in the photo, courtesy Mary Forney's blog.

She captures the general public's imagination unlike any horse in recent memory, if not ever.

5. She Kicks Our Butts

- I am an every day player and I like playing this game. Like me, many of you are the same. And I know something: We have both bet against this horse several times. "She's a closer, she can not get up", "she is overbet", "look at the bridge jumpers on her. If they go slow she has a chance to run off the board.", "she is too slow".

Umm, no.

On betfair last year she was 5-1 in the Breeders Cup Classic with the sharpies hammering against her, while being 5-2 on the board with the so-called "dumb crowd money". I was standing beside a friend who bets professionally and does quite well. He layed $5000 against her, and I too took a poke against "that slow overbet closer".

Zenyatta said "take that".

6. She Absolutely Infuriates the East Coast Clique

- I live in Toronto. People outside this city and throughout the entire country believe we think we are hot stuff, and have tagged us with a line: "they think they are the centre of the Universe." In a lot of cases these outside folks are correct. In New York racing especially, they are not thought of much differently. Some there expect that to be crowned as a great horse she must beg the racing gods at Belmont or Saratoga for an entry and bow to their esteemed presence. Just this weekend it was written by a New York scribe, "The best horse in the country [referring to Quality Road, who ended up losing] will run today, and so will Zenyatta."

She has not gone to New York, and might not go there.

She is a conduit, saying what a lot of people in the rest of the racing world wants to say to the east coast racing clique sometimes: "Get over yourselves."

7. She's a Bias Buster

- Using software to play races, and studying the sport, we know that very deep closers are up against it, even if they race at Santa Anita. The handicapping book is called "The Power of Early Speed" for a reason. It's lucky Zenyatta does not know how to read, or else for each race, she might feel pretty nervous.

Just this last Saturday at Del Mar the jocks did their best to beat her. She cantered to an opening quarter that was slower than two dozen horses went in the harness races at the Meadowlands earlier that day. The three quarters was about as slow as a racehorse could go on the front end, rivalling a Somebeachsomewhere three panels. She didn't much care.

8. She's Zenyatta

- I have watched hundreds of thousands of races and I have never seen a good horse with a personality like hers.

If you read physical handicapping books you'd never bet her - she paws, she swishes her tail - she does 50 things that horses should not do in a post parade or paddock.

She does her "dance", which lights up a crowd.

In a race, she plays, almost like she is a spoiled child in class. While many other horses can come a last eighth in 12, she does it while looking around, ears pricked, almost cantering. At Oaklawn this year, on her way to another easy win, she ran about twenty feet hard, then pricked her ears and looked like she wanted to take a right turn at the head of the lane to get a snow cone.

Mike Smith will scrub on her when she makes a lead, but she just ain't running anymore: "Mike, I have the lead. Leave me the hell alone", she seems to want to say.

In all my years of watching this sport, I have yet to see one like her and each time I watch her race, she reminds me why I love horses. She is simply the most unique racehorse I have ever seen.

There it is: The confessions of a cold-hard, tactical bettor, on why I like this mare. Yes, I know she might not be the fastest mare ever, or she might not even be faster than Quality Road or Blame. Yes, I fully realize that she has not criss-crossed the country looking to beat the hot horse du jour, if she did she might have lost, and the over-the-top accolades in the press and elsewhere can bum some people out. Yes, I know as a bettor I am not supposed to like this mare.

But I like her.

I am an unapologetic, unwavering Zenyatta fan.

Go Z.

Thanks to Mary and Jennifer for the pics


The_Knight_Sky said...

Why sure it's hard not to like the winning machine but...

But 6 furlongs at Belmont Park in the Vosburgh? Does she get there in time?

Okay perhaps that made you think a bit.

If you're going to lavish praise on the mare, then unconsciously you're praising the connections for taking the path of least resistance.

Don't get me wrong. Zenyatta is awesome. But before she turns the ripe old age of 7 in 5 more months
and the history books are closed, too many of us will have felt that she should have raced at least once in New York.

Since she hasn't done so. History will grade her with an "Inc."

Jennifer said...

I love this article! Go Z! :)

Anonymous said...

Knight Sky: Methinks you've missed the point. We don't like her because she's a "Winning machine"; we like her because she is Zenyatta, and she's awesome, and she's like no other horse we've ever seen.

I couldn't care less if she races in New York. Again, east coasters: get over yourselves.

robertSD said...

The_Knight_Sky said... "Don't get me wrong. Zenyatta is awesome ... too many of us will have felt that she should have raced at least once in New York. Since she hasn't done so. History will grade her with an "Inc."

So I gather that since Secretariat never ran on the West coast (21 starts on the East coast) that he too should be graded with an "Inc."?
Yeah just like I thought a ridiculous assertion by those with the "East coast bias."

Anonymous said...

No, Knight Sky, history will not give her an "inc" if she does not race in New York. History, like the rest of us, know New York needs to get over itself. As for HOTY...if she never gets it, so what? She's herself, and that is more than enough, and the award itself will be diminished by her absence.

gib. said...

This was a fun post to read. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Minor correction. The newspaper column calling Quality Road the best was written by a Texan. It was Gary West in the Ft. Worth paper.

He can't be considered to have an East Coast Bias, but he is very close to Steve Asmussen. It was through a West exclusive interview that Rachel Alexandra's trainer asked to have the date of the Apple Blossom moved earlier this year.

Annette Roydon said...

Oh bah humbug! People, stop nattering about inconsequential stuff. Zenyatta has non horse racing fans who maybe might watch the KY Derby, using DVRs so they don't miss her race. I have butterflies every time I watch her and I NEVER watch thoroughbreds. Who cares about anything else other than she is awesome? Go Zenyatta.

Anonymous said...

Oh come on! The horse is incredible. She doesn't care about times, or splits, or what NY thinks. She beats whoever shows up. The owners and trainer should be praised for protecting her. Their first concern is for the horse. I live in NY and I hope they never ship her here to race. Doubters don't deserve to see her here.

Anonymous said...

She was the female Lavaman.

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