Fantastic writing in of all places, the NYT sports section, on last night’s Breeder Cup race. I don’t follow horse racing, don’t really read the sports pages. But this telling of last night’s race is simply breathless:

“Her owners, Jerry and Ann Moss; her trainer, John Shirreffs; and for that matter anyone who had watched and loved the great racemare Zenyatta knew that the real running — the edge-of-the-seat-drama — really didn’t start until she turned for home. Nineteen times before, Zenyatta had looked desperate and in trouble at the top of the stretch. Nineteen times before, she had found a gear to rocket past her rivals in the final strides.

So when jockey Mike Smith cornered the big girl and squared her shoulders toward the finish line in dead last, the more than 72,000 people here at Churchill Downs rose to their feet and held their breath. Zenyatta not only had 11 horses to pass, she also had a dozen or so lengths to make up.

This time, however, Zenyatta was in a different kind of trouble. This was the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, with a field full of thoroughbred racing’s royalty. They were boys. She was the only girl in the bunch, and at age 6 the oldest of the lot.

Zenyatta had started sluggishly, too. Sure, she always spotted fields some daylight, but Smith was worried before they hit the first turn. Her stride was uneven and looked like a rocking horse’s, with a wobbly glider. Dirt was hitting her face for the first time — Zenyatta had run 17 of her previous races on smoother synthetic surfaces.

Somehow, Smith settled her, and Zenyatta picked up some steam rounding the far turn. But now Smith was stuck inside, a wall of horses ahead of him.

He angled her left, one path, two paths, three paths, and it was not pretty. Zenyatta’s strength is power, not agility, and she looked like a bull trying to fight her way out of a ring.

“I needed to cut some corners somewhere,” Smith said.

When he finally got her outside and clear, Zenyatta charged. She shot by Musket Man and Paddy O’Prado and absolutely gassed the Preakness champion, Lookin at Lucky.

There was only one colt left, and he was a good one. Blame had won 8 of 12 in his lifetime, and 5 of his last 6. His rider, Garrett Gomez, had threaded Blame between two rivals and still had seven lengths on Zenyatta with the wire getting closer.

“At the eighth pole, I thought I was going to get there pretty easy,” Gomez confessed. But then he peeked beneath his arm and saw Smith and Zenyatta getting bigger and bigger.

“I knew she’d be coming,” Gomez said. “She’s the best I’ve ever seen.”

Smith was fanning Zenyatta, a mare he loved, with his left hand. She dug in, and Blame’s lead grew smaller with every stride. With 20 yards to go, Zenyatta was at Blame’s tail. Then hip. Then neck. There was a roar, the flash of a finish-line photo, and then silence.”

Just fantastic . . .


Zenyatta Misses History by a Head
NYT, November 6, 2010

Video after the jump . . .

Category: Sports, Weekend

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8 Responses to “Fantastic Sports Writing: Zenyatta’s Last Race”

  1. chartist says:

    I admit to being quite shocked at the start of the race and momentarily thought Mike Smith might pull the mare up due to possible injury out of the gate. When he did catch the field, he had two choices: find a lane or run wide. I think if he had to do it over again, Smith would take the horse wide at the 1/8th pole. If the Classic was 10 yards longer, Zenyatta wins it. But too much time was lost finding a lane through the pack.

  2. dss says:

    What a great story and a great horse. The piece on 60 minutes was inspiring.

  3. chartist says:

    Her gait was so wobbly at the start, I thought for sure she woould be pulled up going into the first turn.
    In some ways she does remind you of Seabuiscut…..

  4. Ltdata says:

    Didn’t hear about her until 60 mins. Even as a youngster her hindquarters look like a quarter horse. Lotsa power there.
    How she stayed sound so long is even more amazing than her W/L record. Seen more than my share of unsound TB’s off the track – a heartbreaker. Heard new synthetic track surfaces may be kinder to their still growing bodies. Always hope there.

  5. mitchn says:

    Couldn’t agree more, BR. I was so taken by Joe Drape’s brilliant recounting of the race that I read it out loud to my wife and kids over breakfast. Great race, fantastic horse. That she failed to end her brilliant career on a perfect note just proves she’s human after all. :-)

  6. beaufou says:


    future of gaming and communication?

  7. bobby says:

    Hey Barry, thanks for the link to the article…well written indeed.
    What a horse!!