Originally posted on Smile Politely.
Seconds after the field broke for the 2010 edition of the Breeders' Cup Classic, track announcer Trevor Denman cried, "Zenyatta is dead last!" The grandstand erupted with an appreciative laugh. The whole stage was set for a show, after all, and most of the 72,739 people watching from the stands weren't just your typical race-goers, they were fans of the starlet, Zenyatta. They knew her usual moves, her typical dramatic run as she always came from the back of the pack to sweep past rivals, giving them a performance to raise their voices to ear-splitting crescendos before snatching victory at the wire. It always seemed like she was saved from being buried near the back of the pack, as if carried on angel wings to win by some miracle of God; because doubtlessly, if there is a God, He, too, must be a Zenyatta fan.
But as Zenyatta found daylight off the final turn and started sailing over that hallowed stretch of ground toward the finish line, goosebumps racing down our arms with every great gobbling stride, we watched the birth of history as a stubborn horse by the name of Blame denied her that miracle. Make no mistake, Blame is not evil incarnate. Zenyatta simply met a freight train she could not run down this day. As they bobbed heads past the wire, Blame saw her and sped away from that behemoth, never knowing that great mare would put him in the history books alongside the names of Upset and Onion, the greatest spoilers of all-time. Zenyatta returned to be unsaddled to a standing ovation for her runner-up effort. Despite the jubilations of winning jockey, Garrett Gomez, Blame only received a smattering of cheers for his victory. Like an ending written by the Coen brothers, it wasn't a finale like everyone expected, but it was a finale none would ever forget.
Featured in W Magazine, Sports Illustrated, and Oprah's O Magazine this fall as one of the top 20 most influential females in the world, the champion racemare was also given a spotlight on 60 Minutes the Sunday before the Breeders' Cup. As it turns out, the public is, in fact, interested in horse racing. With a little renewed attention thanks to Disney's film adaptation of the legendary Secretariat, Zenyatta was given every chance to be a star in the public eye. But this all came too late for a nationwide audience to truly appreciate her.
It's not realistic to think that everyone who witnessed this year's Breeders' Cup is going to rush out to subscribe to TVG or HRTV on their dish, but had this all happened last year, when Zenyatta was going up against males for the first time, think of all the great performances people could've enjoyed. While all save one of her races in her 2010 campaign lacked the crescendo of a match-up versus males, perhaps the grandstands at Oaklawn, Santa Anita, Del Mar, and Hollywood Park would've been standing room only had all this press come before the curtain fell on Zenyatta's career.
Now that Zenyatta has rounded her last field of rivals, has literally danced her last dance, what can the industry take away from the events that elevated Zenyatta's status to world fame? Will it step up to the task of reaching out beyond its already-established fan base and try to bring in new faces? All the public needs is to be exposed to a good story and a good horse. Is that really too great of a task? If not for her record-setting streak of 19 straight wins, I hope that Zenyatta's legacy will be to teach racing how to promote itself and the stars who make it all possible.
Zenyatta has given us the reins, now. What will we do with them?