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Friday, August 6, 2010

Is Z's Campaign Weak Sauce?

The picture to the left was taken last fall in the packed paddock at Santa Anita Park moments before the historic Breeders' Cup Classic wherein the great Zenyatta became the first female horse to win the year end "championship" race. This week's Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance WTF topic is "Can Zenyatta gain anything by running on the West Coast again?"

While the last two years' campaigns could be considered "weak sauce" by some (sans last year's Classic - deemed by some as a home game), I'm going to defend the big mare and list my reasons why....And this coming from the author of a tongue-in-cheek entry named The Top 10 Reasons Why Big Z Won't Come East. This is why I don't disagree with the way she is being handled....

1. There's only one race that counts remaining this year. The Big Z's next two races don't really matter to anyone except a historian or two. Her connections are just trying to get her ready for The Big One on Saturday, November 6th. Basically she doesn't need to gain anything at this point. She needs to be ready for BC Classic Day, period. That will be when she'll face her stiffest competition to date (see this weekend's Whitney), so she needs to be in top condition on that day.

2. She's proven on dirt. There's no reason to ship her across the country and have her run in the heat and humidity of Saratoga, she's already won on dirt at Oaklawn and should handle it at Churchill Downs. I'd be shocked if they run her at Belmont in the Beldame next, also.

3. Rachel is no longer the target. She showed up in April for the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn, and Rachel didn't (which probably was a good thing as she obviously wasn't ready). Chances are they'll never meet (except in the Hall of Fame). I imagine Jess Jackson will run her in the Ladies Classic/Distaff and call it a day. Z's connections are focused on bigger and better targets.

4. Back to back Classics would cement her legacy. It would also dispel the notion that she beat a weak field in 2009, which is complete poppycock (I knew I could work that word into a post someday).

5. 20-0 would be pretty cool. Staying out west gives her the best chance to retire with a pretty remarkable record. And winning her last west coast appearance in a race named after her would also add to the legend.

I know my thoughts are probably in the minority, but I still think focusing on #1 above is the key -- there's only one race to get ready for, if she loses the Hirsch or her next start and wins the Classic at Churchill, who's going to remember that she lost the Hirsch, or for that matter, give a damn about it.

Not me. And certainly there are 3 million reasons why Mr. Moss won't.


Brian Zipse said...

Underestimation of Rachel Alexandra is in vogue right now, (pun intended) but a mistake ... a big mistake.

Susan said...

Well said, EquiSpace,
And let us not forget, Zenyatta could be even BETTER on dirt.

EquiSpace said...

Brian: Not underestimating Rachel (I believe I make a comment that they'll meet in the Hall of Fame). Just projecting that the current projected Classic rivals (e.g., QR, Blame, etc) are currently a notch above where Rachel is right now, in my opinion. Not even sure RA will show up on BC Saturday. This post was more about Z's campaign, not RA's, which is a whole separate topic in itself.

Susan: Thanks for the kind words and for reading.

Keith-TripleDeadHeat said...

If the question is "Can Zenyatta gain anything..." - then the answer is: yes, some fitness.

If Zenyatta wins no one will care and it will be written off as foregone conclusion. A loss would spark a Twitter riot between Rachel and Z supporters.

I think you're right that the connections are pointing directly at the Classic which means historians will have two good races to look back on and enjoy.

Great post!

Valerie Grash said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Valerie Grash said...

Geno, I love you, but I’m going to have to quibble with some parts of your argument.

The supposition that the Breeders’ Cup is the only race that now counts is exactly what’s wrong with racing. It’s contributed to much thinner “campaigns” for our top horses--and I use that word ironically, as three to five races per year ante-Breeders’ Cup hardly compares to the military-like, battle after battle, campaigns fought by the great horses of racing history—hell, even Secretariat ran 12 times as a 3-year-old!. That lack of racing is a significant factor contributing to the overall decline of popularity of the sport. If the superstars barely run, who’s going to capture the attention and imagine of the general public, let alone hard-core fan--$8,000 claimers? Not likely. Picture an NBA season when LeBron James plays only once every two months—yes, everyone’s pumped for that one game and the limelight shines brightly on it. But as soon as it’s over, every other game in between draws virtually no interest. Who really wants to see a product that isn’t reaching its full potential?

Take that a step farther in terms of the quality of competition. Zenyatta running in the $300,000 Clement Hirsch poses virtually no chance of an upset. However, if her connections had instead chosen to take on the upcoming $1 million Pacific Classic…well, THAT’S more of a test (considering the quality of older West Coast handicap horses, probably not that much of a test, but still…). Even more challenging would have been taking on Blame, General Quarters, Haynesfield and Mine That Bird in this weekend’s $750,000 Whitney. THAT would have gotten the world talking!

Bottom line: I think the Mosses are gutless for not letting an obviously extraordinary mare strut her stuff against the best competition wherever it may be, and the mentality that the Breeders’ Cup is the one and only goal for a horse’s racing year has ruined the sport of horse racing. Nay, not just ruined, but doomed the sport.

EquiSpace said...

Keith: Right on's just a training exercise for the Classic. Re: Twitter mean amongst the same 5 people? LOL.

Val: Quibbling is healthy. :)

AND I totally agree with your viewpoints. However, the question isn't from the Fan's perspective or the Sport's perspective - where I would agree with you wholeheartedly; but from the connections' POV...there is nothing for them to gain in exerting Z via shipping/difficult race on the East Coast or even the Pac Classic for that matter.

I believe they are only concerned with her legacy, with which a Classic win will probably sew up HoTY, an undefeated record and being able to say she beat the best on her non-traditional surface, etc.

As a fan and for the sport, it TOTALLY sucks, but it happens to be the best chance (less risk) for the Moss' to put a permanent stamp on a wonderful career.

Appreciate the love, and of course, your thoughts and comments are always welcome here. :)

Susan said...

I think people forget that she is a SIX year old mare who is still winning grade one's. Granted not all grade one's are created equal. Read Jay Hovday's article today. It's an eye opener into Zenyatta's campaign. It hasn't been as easy as people think. So to call the Mosses "gutless" is that necessary? When what they ( well John Sherrifs, really) have done is to make all the right decisions and manage her career to perfection. Remember, it's all about doing what's right by the horse. Perhaps you are right Val, in that the whole concept of the BC has changed the Industry, and not for the better, (or bettor) however, it is what it is, and it's the way the game is played now.

tencentcielo said...

I live in the hotbed of Z land, I visit often probably the biggest pro-Z site out there ( and I still think that her campaign is weak. The reason for her running in the Hirsch is her unbeaten streak. The Mosses would rather run in the "easier" race than risk the chance of getting beat. It is the crux of her legacy. As long as she keeps her start total = to her win total, she has the chance to be ranked among the greatest of all time. But the second she has a loss, she loses stature.

That may sound ridiculous to some, but if you hang a loss on Z's record, you end up with a mare who won all but one race, but only face males twice and ran outside her home base three times. If you left the name off the record, and fans would rank her much lower than people do now.

The reasons she should have shipped out is because of her legacy. It matters to the Mosses. Or at least I thought it did.

P.S. Before you call me a Z hater, i would still put her above Rachel right now if they both retired. (But both would be ranked in the 20's)

Anonymous said...

it's weaker than weak.
why run her on a track she dislikes at a distance that's too short in a race that proves nothing? what a waste.
and it's going to be about 75 with low humidity in saratoga tomorrow.

Brian Appleton said...

Zenyatta is a great mare but I agree with the overall sentiment being expressed here, she has the potential to be the greatest in history if they would only unleash her and stop running her in weak repeat race editions.
To me a mare like Goldikova is in an entirely different league than Zenyatta at this point. She faces the worlds best males and females on a regular basis and "trots" the globe to get it done. Her yearly campaigns are real campaigns with new challenges around every corner.
Great article, any post that can get you over 8 comments means something's being done right! :)

I love Zenyatta but I would love a chance to see her live up to the incredible potential she has displayed. After her Breeders' Cup Classic win she should have been racing exclusively against males in open company. Her performance there raised the bar but she has failed to come close to that quality of competition since then.

Katie Konrath said...

I agree with all the others who think Zenyatta could and should be doing more. She is - without doubt - one of the greatest. But she competes mostly in races against weaker fields and where she's already won.

Zenyatta could electrify the sport if she ran in challenging races, even if she was defeated. Secretariat and Man 'o War both lost and no one denies their greatness.

Instead, her owners lob softballs at her because they want her to retire undefeated like Pepper's Pride.

Take care of the horse, but challenge her. And that goes for all the owners out there who barely run their horses anymore.

We need the stars more than every to revitalize horse racing. And the fillies are even more powerful at getting attention and bringing in viewers when they race males. It makes me sad that Zenyatta has this great opportunity, and her owners are passing it by.


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