As about a hundred racing fans gathered outside Barn 41 at Churchill Downs the morning of Nov. 7 to show their appreciation for Zenyatta, trainer John Shirreffs reflected on the disappointment of the previous day when the mare’s late run came up a head short in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I).
"What I felt badly about is that it was a fairy tale and it didn’t end the way everybody wanted," Shirreffs said of Zenyatta’s attempt to win her 20th consecutive race undefeated. "However, Zenyatta is pretty happy out there and she will be happy. It’s a feeling of disappointment but you get over that and you remember all the fun times."
Just as she had during the week leading up to the World Championships, Zenyatta grazed near the barn along Longfield Avenue in Louisville, as onlookers took photographs and petted the 6-year-old daughter of Street Cry. The previous day’s race, which Zenyatta lost by a head to Blame , did not appear to have any negative effect on the mare.
"The fact that she put in an incredible run proves what a champ she is," Shirreffs said. "I think one of her great characteristics is that she has tremendous power to recover (from a race)."
Shirreffs said he could find no fault with the ride by jockey Mike Smith, who was emotional in taking responsibility for the loss. "He was devastated. I am sure in a couple of days he will feel better.
"Everybody blames something. You try to figure out what you could have done differently, etc., etc. She drops back and it’s unfortunate she drops so far back and it is unfortunate there were two groups in the race...That left her a lot to do. If they were a little more compact, it might have been a different outcome. And he could have split horses somewhere it could have been a different outcome."
Despite how far back she was in the race, Shirreffs said he was optimistic that the mare would win. "You always have that hope when she lowers that head and stretches out."
With Zenyatta making her third start on a dirt track after spending most of her career on synthetic surfaces, Shirreffs said the track was not a factor in the loss.
"She handled the track perfectly. That was no big deal."
Shirreffs said he could not speak on behalf of Jerry and Ann Moss on whether Zenyatta will be retired, but believes that would be the proper course of action.
"She’s had her run and it’s been fabulous. I think she has been great for the business and I am sure the Mosses feel the same way."
And the trainer said he hopes the industry can build on the huge amount of publicity generated by the mare, especially with regard to letting the public get to know the horses.
"The big thing the sport needs to do is let the fans get a little closer to the horses. I don’t know how you do it because some horses do not allow it, but horses like Zenyatta that allow the fans to get a little closer would be important."
Shirreffs noted that he has not watched a replay of the Classic, but might do so in the future. "Maybe later. It was her last race and it is all over," he said. "Why watch it again?"
The trainer said Zenyatta will return to his barn at Hollywood Park, and will eventually leave.
Despite the void of no longer having a horse of her caliber in his barn, Shirreffs said he would be able to handle it.
With Blame winner of the Classic, the next race between the mare and the male horse will come in Horse of the Year balloting. Shirreffs said there was no doubt she should take home racing’s top honor.
"I think she should be Horse of the Year. Obviously she has done so much for the business. You just have to reward it and that would be an appropriate award."