The Many Accomplishments of Zenyatta

Talk about lofty retirement goals: this Saturday, Zenyatta, a six-year-old female thoroughbred, hopes to break a record and end her career undefeated.   

If she wins Saturday, in her last race before retirement, she will have won all 20 races she ever raced in.   

The storyline is perfect for a horse who calls Hollywood home.  Zenyatta, the star attraction at the Breeder’s Cup Classic at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky this weekend, is highly favored to win and will break two records if she does: she will be the first American-bred horse to win 20 consecutive races and the first to retire undefeated.   

Zenyatta won last year’s Breeder’s Cup, becoming the first mare to ever do so.  Her main competitor at last year’s race, Gio Ponti, will be back for another shot this year.   The competition will also include Quality Road, Blame, and Lookin at Lucky – however, these three horses have never won a 1¼ mile race before, and the three times Gio Ponti has won a race of this distance, it has been on turf.  Saturday’s race is on dirt.   

Her chances are so good, in fact, that the man in charge of organizing the odds at Churchill Downs, Mike Battaglia, made Zenyatta the 8-5 favorite (meaning that for every $1 bet on Zenyatta, $1.60 will be won).

But perhaps the reason why she has so many adoring fans is not just because betting in her favor has never failed them, but because Zenyatta adores the crowds.  Before every race, according to 60 Minutes, she prances and dances while being led to the gate.  Her trainer, John Shireffs, notices this too.  He told 60 Minutes’ Bob Simon that before every race, he can see how she puffs herself up, her eyes widen, she’s looking around the crowd and soaking in their energy.  Zenyatta’s and the crowds’ excitement feed off each other.

However, Zenyatta is more than just an undefeated horse, says her Hall of Fame jockey, Mike Smith.  Smith has ridden horses to victory in nearly 5,000 races and was also interviewed in the 60 Minutes piece.  He said–to several sports commentators’ amazement–that Zenyatta might very well be the best racing horse to ever live–including Secretariat (commonly thought of as the best racing horse of all time).  He said if she wins on Saturday, and he believes she will, she will have a perfect record, and “how can you argue with perfection?”  A relatively impenetrable argument–and all eyes will be expecting perfection come Saturday.