It's been pretty obvious I have been obsessed with seeing Zenyatta this entire trip. It was my goal, my main objective to obtain complete happiness for the trip. I was more excited to see her than any of the Derby contenders, truth me told.
And this morning, when she first appeared on the Churchill track and her picture was put up on the Jumbotron for the spectators to see, I was the first person to see her and shrieked her name. From my unabashed excitement, people seemed to think she was standing right in front of us and began to look left and right. They had not been waiting with baited breath for the past two mornings, scrutinizing each horse that came along to make sure it wasn't Zenyatta.
Besides looking for the tallest horse on the track, I'd been looking for what I call her "paintbrush" stripe. When she began to jog, her way over to us seemed to take an eternity. And when she passed us and gawked, I steadied my camera and took a series of shots with the rapidity of machinegun fire. And when they took her back to the barn, I was so disappointed I wouldn't get to take any close-up shots. Little did I know I would get another chance... and blow it.
Later in the day, I returned to the track and went to the Derby museum. After coming out of the museum, I went to the track to catch a couple of races. I didn't have any real clue what was going on around me.
After watching a maiden starter race, I walked up next to the rail and started taking pictures of horses who were being led back to the barns. It didn't occur to me who these horses were, or why they're being led out of the paddock without saddles on. They were neither mud-streaked, nor tired. I was busy staring at a chestnut with its head hanging unusually low when it happened.
After the chestnut, this big, almost black horse is led square in front of me, and I think to myself, "That horse looks almost like Zenyatta, except its blaze is too big." And then this guy behind me starts taking pictures of the horse with his cell phone and says, "That's Zenyatta!"
And I look at him like he's pulling my leg. I just stand and stare at him and he looks at me and asks, "Do you know who Zenyatta is?"
I look back at the gleaming horse, whose huge shoulders are turned toward me now, and I'm just dumbstruck she's four feet away from me and I'm just standing there, completely unprepared. I rip off my lenscap and snap a few pictures, but it's too late. She's turned her head away from me, getting a little anxious as a tractor is revved up and begins moving down the track, and I've missed the best photo opportunity of Zenyatta I'll probably ever have. I'm shell-shocked. I can't form the words to tell this man next to me what just happened. Do I know Zenyatta? That's like asking, do you know your current occupation? I've written at length about this mare. I've read every article on her I could ever find. I know her life story. I've stared at pictures of her for hours, enviously toiling over beautiful shots I wish I could've taken, planning the spectacular images I could create of her if ONLY I could see her in person myself!
And here is my moment, gone forever, placed in the palm of my hand only for me to daze out at the worst possible second and not realize this is the best horse in racing walking right in front of me, and I'm hesitating to take her picture.
This is what they must mean by epic failure.
The worst part is, I find out Zenyatta had been schooling in the paddock while I was watching a bunch of maiden races. That is the part that hurts the most. The guy tells me she was just standing there, looking around and taking everything in, herself looking like a picture. I missed my opportunity not just in a sad, fleeting moment, but in an epic, grandslam sort of way that makes you want to throw yourself under the feet of the stampeding horses.
We'll see if tomorrow the Woody Allen-ness continues, or if I'm given a merciful second chance to see her again.
Well, the image of her will forever be ingrained in my mind, but it will be synonymous with the ironic thought, "Yeah, that horse resembles her. But its stripe is too wide."