Team Zenyatta (left to right): Trainer John Shirreffs and his wife Dottie, jockey Mike Smith, and owners Ann and Jerry Moss.

Team Zenyatta (left to right): Trainer John Shirreffs and his wife Dottie, jockey Mike Smith, and owners Ann and Jerry Moss.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Team Zenyatta Wins Special Eclipse Award

Star power of the extraordinary mare transcended Thoroughbred racing.

Team Zenyatta, consisting of the individuals who helped 6-year-old Zenyatta become one of the most recognizable sports stars of 2010, will be honored with the Special Eclipse Award at the 40th annual Eclipse Awards ceremony Monday, Jan. 17, at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach in Miami Beach, Fla.

The Special Award honors extraordinary service, individual achievements in, or contributions to the sport of Thoroughbred racing. Voting was done by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Daily Racing Form, and the National Turf Writers And Broadcasters.

Team Zenyatta is led by owners Jerry and Ann Moss; trainer John Shirreffs; jockey Mike Smith; racing manager Dottie Ingordo-Shirreffs; exercise rider Steve Willard; groom Mario Espinoza, hotwalker Carmen Zamona, and assistant trainer Michelle Jensen. 

In 2010, Zenyatta moved Thoroughbred racing off the racing pages and into the mainstream and social media spheres.

The year began with the unexpected decision by Jerry and Ann Moss to bring the undefeated Zenyatta out of a brief retirement following her dramatic victory in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I). Zenyatta continued that unbeaten streak in 2010 by winning her first five races of the season, all grade I stakes, at Santa Anita Park, Oaklawn Park, Hollywood Park, and Del Mar.

She delighted fans with her signature dance in the paddock before each race and with her electrifying finishes. As the year progressed, Zenyatta’s popularity grew into a cultural phenomenon. More than 60,000 fans attended the Apple Blossom Stakes (gr. I) at Oaklawn in April, and her Facebook had more than 58,000 “friends”.

During the course of the season, Shirreffs offered access to racing fans around the country who wanted to get close to Zenyatta at her barn and pose for pictures with her.  At Churchill Downs in Louisville, crowds lined up along the barn area fence line to say good-bye to her on the day following the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Throughout 2010, the star power of Zenyatta transcended Thoroughbred racing. She was selected to Oprah Winfrey’s “O Power List” as one of the 20 most influential women of 2010. She was also featured in a photo spread in W Magazine. On Oct. 31, more than 10 million viewers tuned in to CBS’s “60 Minutes” to watch a feature on Zenyatta and her amazing popularity.

Zenyatta’s participation in the 2010 Classic helped to nearly triple the national ratings for the ESPN telecast compared to 2009 levels. The telecast was also the highest rated Breeders’ Cup since 1992. Her near miss against Blame was repeatedly cited as one of the greatest moments in sports during 2010. Zenyatta finished second in The Associated Press’ 2010 Female Athlete of the Year balloting behind only Olympic gold medal winning skier Lindsey Vonn. In 2009, Zenyatta also finished second in the same ranking, behind tennis star Serena Williams.