20 And Done, Means No. 1

We are now just two weeks shy from one the most significant races in American racing history. November 6th’s Breeders’ Cup Classic will mark the final run in the still unblemished racing career of the legendary Zenyatta. Already the winner of nineteen races in as many starts, Big Z will be looking to win her third consecutive Breeders’ Cup race by adding her second BC Classic to her lofty resume. In doing so, she will solidify her standing as the best horse in racing history.

The fact that so much of Zenyatta’s legacy lies on one race, is quite astounding, if not a little unfair. As last year’s Horse Of The Year farce proved, Zenyatta is still trying to validate her greatness to the “non-believers” in the racing world. Those made up primarily of east coast lobbyists who refuse to acknowledge the significance of her accomplishments. Constantly trumping up negative arguments that are usually based on insignificant, if not untruthful details, their disapproval can range from when she runs, where she runs, and even what she runs on.

Don’t get me wrong, by nature, horse racing is a subjective sport. Without it, where would it be? Our whole parimutuel system is based on the theory of “my horse will beat yours”. Knowing that, I’m quite certain half of my readers will disagree with my assertion of Zenyatta being the greatest ever.

You know what they say about opinions… Well here’s mine. To me, the two hardest things in racing are to watch a female rider ride a horse I’ve wagered on, and the other is trying to compare horses from different eras. The former, is something I’ll never be comfortable with. The latter, I’ll take a stab at.

The first thing I like to focus on when comparing horses from different eras, is were they easily the best of their generation? If Zenyatta wins the BC, she will have won the richest and most prestigious “Handicap” race in North America, two years straight. The quality, and depth of this year’s running, (Lookin At Lucky, Blame, Quality Road, and others) should easily make this one of the top five Classics ever run. This, along with the longstanding dominance she’s had over her division, puts her at the top of her generation.

The next thing would be the longevity, and stature of her career. Has she been at the top of her division over a long period of time? A winner of twelve grade 1, and four grade 2 races against her division, she has won the highly prestigious Apple Blossom Stakes twice and the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic once. Two of the biggest races on the racing calendar for distaffers.

The final, and most definitive accomplishment would be Big Z’s impeccable resume itself. Twenty races without a loss! No horse has ever been able to finish a career with as many wins in as many races. All but two being grade 2 or better. The fact that no horse has been able to win as many races in a career without losing should not be taken lightly. Even the likes of Secretariat, Spectacular Bid, Man O’ War, and Citation, names that continually come to the forefront of a “greatest” discussion, lost multiple races. To get a horse to run at graded stakes level for eighteen straight, and not get beat, is mind boggling. That’s the intangible that solidifies my opinion on Zenyatta.

Unfortunately, without a win in this year’s Classic, she will go out as a great female race horse, but not one of the greatest ever. Detractors will continually make their favorite, erroneous argument that “she can’t run on a ‘conventional’ dirt surface”. Even though, two of her most dominant races have come on the Oaklawn ‘conventional’ surface during her Apple Blossom triumphs. A FACT they refuse to be bothered with. My argument is based on a win by Zenyatta on the first Saturday in November. Even with a loss I think she’s done enough to be considered one of the best.

Unfortunately, I suspect there’s more than a few people that need to be “convinced” by another win before they allow themselves to believe the same. Because of that, this one start becomes considerably more important than any of her nineteen others, combined. Without a twentieth win, her uncertain place in racing history will include 19 wins in 20 races, 2 Breeders’ Cup wins, 13 grade 1 wins, 4 grade 2 wins, $6.4 million in earnings, more than $300,000 per start over a three year racing career, 3 perfect seasons, and 0 Horse Of The Year trophies.

Article Contributed by Tim McCullough.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of HorseRacing.com