As fans of Blame and Zenyatta hold their collective breath in anticipation of the highly debated Horse of the Year announcement at the Jan. 17 Eclipse Awards ceremony, owner Jerry Moss and trainer Al Stall gave their final thoughts on the matter during a National Thoroughbred Racing Association teleconference Jan. 13.
“With everything this great horse has accomplished, if she’s not acknowledged with at least one Horse of the Year title in her three-year campaign, to me it would be a little ridiculous,” said Moss of Zenyatta, a five-time grade I winner in 2010 who suffered the only loss of her 20-race career to Blame in the Nov. 6 Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I). “I try not to think about losing; I’m always thinking about winning.”
Along with trainer John Shirreffs, jockey Mike Smith, and others that were involved with Zenyatta’s campaign, Moss will receive a Special Eclipse Award Jan. 17, and is also a finalist for outstanding owner with his wife, Ann. Shirreffs is additionally a finalist for outstanding trainer at the ceremony. Even with the possibility of receiving all these accolades, Moss said he would still be “very disappointed” if Zenyatta did not win the Horse of the Year title.
“If we don’t win the big prize, we’ll be very disappointed,” he said. “We’re going there to win Horse of the Year.”
Moss said while Zenyatta’s immense popularity with fans across the nation should be a factor in her Horse of the Year title, she deserves the honor for much more than just that reason.
“(The Horse of the Year title) should go to the most important racehorse in the United States that’s been campaigning the last 12 months,” he said. “It’s who people look for when they look on TV. It’s who the year is about. Look at how many headlines Zenyatta has received this year compared to everyone else. She is the story this year, and she was the story last year. She won the Classic last year and didn’t win the big prize…this year I believe she deserves it because of her efforts, her five grade I wins, how many different tracks she’s run at, and how many people she’s entertained.”
Whether or not Zenyatta wins Horse of the Year, Moss said she will still go down as “perhaps the greatest mare in North American history.”
“I think people will be talking about her for a long time. This is a horse the industry should have celebrated; we welcomed them to do that because she was such an agreeable horse around people. The fans have been fantastic in their appreciation of Zenyatta.”
Moss also stated his case for giving fans the opportunity in the future to vote for the Eclipse Award winners rather than just members of the racing media.
“Shirreffs believes that horses need to be brought closer to the people, because then they’ll feel more a part of the game,” he said. They’ll turn out in greater numbers and have repeat visits to the racetrack. The fans should play a greater part (in voting for Horse of the Year), and we need to figure a way to make that possible.”
On a different note, Moss said an announcement would be made in the next two or three weeks as to which stallion Zenyatta would be bred to for 2011. “She’s doing extremely well, she’s adapting to her new circumstances,” said Moss of Zenyatta, who is being stabled at Will Farish’s Lane’s End Farm near Versailles, Ky. “ She’s got buddies in the paddock with her. I don’t think she could be doing any better…they’re taking good care of her,” he added, noting that he would pay the mare a visit on his way to the Eclipse Awards.
Stall, who also participated in the teleconference, said he would not feel any sympathy for the connections of Zenyatta if Horse of the Year honors went to Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider’s Blame.
“We do the same thing they do on a daily basis, we go out to the barn and work hard to take care of our horses, and Blame means as much to us as Zenyatta does to them,” he said. “The fans may be a different story, but that’s something I can’t control.
“I’m a strength of schedule and a head-to-head kind of guy, so that’s why I think Blame deserves the award,” Stall continued. “I love Zenyatta; we all love Zenyatta. They’ve campaigned her unbelievably; to keep a horse sound and in training through her 6-year-old year, it’s almost impossible, but they did it and they did it well.
“However strictly from a handicapping standpoint, the Foster, Whitney, and Jockey Club Gold Cup (all gr. I) were tougher races (than the ones Zenyatta won this year). We had a head-to-head competition (in the Classic), and (Zenyatta) ran the race the way she usually does...it looked like every horse had its chance and we prevailed.”
Stall, who seemed to wear less emotion on his sleeves than Moss, said there would be “some disappointment” if Blame were to lose the Horse of the Year title to Zenyatta, but the situation was out of his control.
“None of us will be heartbroken (if Blame doesn’t win),” he said. “We’ll be happy for Zenyatta and move on.”
When asked if he was prepared to handle any backlash from angry Zenyatta fans should Blame be named Horse of the Year, Stall seemed fairly nonchalant.
“It’s a shame there might be something like that, but it doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I’m not going to worry about it, but I know there will be a lot of rage on the Internet, so we’ll see how that goes. I guess it’s a good thing (The Eclipse Awards) are in Miami as opposed to Beverly Hills this year,” he added with a laugh.
“Blame has always been a good horse; he’s a great looking horse, well bred, and a beautiful horse to deal with; everyone can come up and pet him. He’s very relaxed, calm, and nothing ever bothers him. Then on the racetrack, he had a killer instinct, which is the definition of a racehorse. He deserves whatever comes his way, and hopefully that’s Horse of the Year.”
TVG will have live coverage of the 40th annual Eclipse Awards, which will be held at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach hotel, beginning at 6 p.m. EST.