Where do I begin when talking about the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic? Well, I guess I can state the obvious first. Zenyatta was defeated by a devastatingly narrow margin by Blame under the lights of Churchill Downs on Saturday in what must go down as the greatest Breeders' Cup Classic of all 27 that have been run. The rush of excitement that racing fans, non-racing fans, and anyone else that watched that race felt reverberated around the sporting world for the last two days. There were discussions about Zenyatta's loss on Around The Horn, Pardon The Interruption, Sportscenter, and other media outlets that normally treat horse racing as a leper that gets covered only as a last resort. Zenyatta and her performance were that transcendent. She ran her greatest race in the one race she did not win.
Let us not ignore the winner either. Blame held off quite possibly the greatest horse of the last ten years by digging in and gutting out a final furlong for the ages with everyone watching at the track and on television rooting for him to fail. I had winning tickets on Blame and I found myself rooting for the mare to make the special kind of history we all wanted her to. Blame will most likely be voted Horse Of The Year in light of the victory and also in light of the fact that he beat the horse that he will most likely be pitted against in the voting, however scant the margin. He was truly a champion in victory, even if Claiborne Farms' Seth Hancock did not distinguish himself in the post-race press conference by declaring Blame Horse Of The Year and almost being dismissive of Zenyatta and her tremendous effort.
That effort is what will make this Classic the most classic of all the Classics. The first time under the Twin Spires, it appeared that Zenyatta might have had a problem or something that might have caused her to be pulled up and out of the race. She was that far behind the rest of the Classic field. Jockey Mike Smith (who was as gracious in the post-race aftermath as Seth Hancock was not) called on Zenyatta to get into the action a little earlier than usual and she responded to his urging and clawed her way back into contention as the field moved on the far turn. By the time they hit mid-stretch, Blame and Zenyatta had put all of the competition behind them and had the race to themselves. The near-hysterical crowd was pleading with Zenyatta to get there and win and end her career as The Perfect Horse. She couldn't quite make it and settled for the lone second of her tremendous career. But, you know something, she finally was able to convince all the nay-sayers that she was one helluva racehorse with her character, grace, and magnificence in defeat.
It is hard to believe that Zenyatta will likely never be voted Horse Of The Year. She would have been a longshot candidate in 2008 when she won the Ladies' Classic and in 2009, she ran into the dream season of Rachel Alexandra. In 2010, she came as close as she would ever come and lost the award by a nose. She now becomes like Stirling Moss, who is considered one of the greatest drivers in Formula One history, but never won the F1 Championship. She now becomes like Rocket Richard, the Montreal Canadiens legendary goal-scoring ace, who never won an NHL scoring championship. She will probably never be Horse Of The Year, but she certainly has been the horse of the last three years and for me, that's good enough.
Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!
Photo courtesy of tsn.ca