Mathea Kelley

The Morning After: All Zenyatta, All the Time

Strong support for a Horse of the Year title.

Although she was back in her barn at Hollywood Park after her historic Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) win, Zenyatta was the hot topic the morning of Nov. 8 among those gathered at Clocker’s Corner at Santa Anita, one day after they witnessed history.

While the connections of winners and others from the Nov. 7 World Championships Day card reported their horses came out of their respective races with no major problems, they were more inclined to discuss the scintillating performance by the daughter of Street Cry, who set a record with 14 wins against no defeats while taking down some of the best male horses in the world.

Zenyatta’s victory for owners Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Moss and trainer John Shirreffs fired up the debate over whether she or filly Rachel Alexandra is more deserving of the Horse of the Year title. In the minds of the owners, breeders, trainers, and others at Santa Anita, however, there is no debate.

"Can you imagine what the crowd here yesterday would think of our sport if we didn’t give it to her (Zenyatta)?" trainer Bob Baffert asked. He also referred to the decision of majority owner Jess Jackson to skip the Breeders’ Cup with Rachel Alexandra primarily due to his dislike of artificial racing surfaces. Santa Anita’s main track is a Pro-Ride synthetic track.

"Both horses deserve Horse of the Year, but when it comes down to it, Zenyatta generated the buzz," Baffert said. "I think she had to win the way she did yesterday to get it. I had my doubts about her, but she did it effortlessly. I don’t blame (Jess Jackson) for not coming. But you have to show up for the Breeders’ Cup (to win championships)."

Baffert said his three Breeders’ Cup participants, including Classic sixth-place finisher Richard's Kid , returned without any problems. The trainer said the 13 post position for Lookin at Lucky , second in the Grey Goose Juvenile (gr. I) and the number one post for Zensational, fifth in the Sentient Jet Sprint (gr. I), were likely factors in the horse’s performances.

"Zensational never got to show what he could do and Lookin at Lucky ran a great race to get second," Baffert said.

Eoin Harty, who saddled Colonel John to a fifth-place Classic finish, said he did not believe Rachel Alexandra would have beaten Zenyatta had she competed in the Classic. "The fans got what they came for," said Harty.

Bill Casner, co-owner of WinStar Farms that races Colonel John, said plans were undetermined for the Tiznow  colt. He noted that consideration is being given to sending Colonel John to stud, but with the current downturn in the breeding industry there might be a greater incentive to keep the colt in training another year.

"There are reasons to go to the breeding shed, but we also believe fans should get to see him another year," Casner said. "We had an opportunity (in the Classic) but he just was not good enough."

Along with his belief that Zenyatta earned the Horse of the Year title in the Classic, Casner opined that consideration should be given to having the World Championships at Santa Anita on a permanent basis. He cited the favorable climate, the ability of the California track to attract large crowds, and the fact there have been no catastrophic injuries during the four days of Breeders’ Cup races at Santa Anita over the last two years.

"Four days of racing over two years without an injury – the safety of the horse is what comes first," Casner said.

With the Breeders’ Cup slashing general admission prices to $10 from last year’s $20 and not requiring patrons to purchase tickets for both days as they did in 2008, the two-day attendance of 96,496 was well up over the 2008 figure of 86,588.

Chip Woolley, who said Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner Mine That Bird did not really take to the surface in his ninth-place Classic finish, said of Zenyatta’s victory: "Unbelievable. It’s a great thing they (Mosses) did for racing. The fans got to see her true greatness."

Noting that Mine That Bird had a long 2009 campaign, Woolley said the gelded son of Birdstone  would get a much-needed winter break. "We just didn’t have it yesterday. He just did not make that big sensational run."

Although Mine That Bird was unplaced in his two previous starts over Santa Anita’s artificial surface, Woolley said he never considered not coming to the Breeders’ Cup. "I am not a big fan of synthetics, but you need great horses to show up. This is the championship."

Among other Classic performances, trainer Christophe Clement said plans are undetermined for second-place finisher Gio Ponti . "He ran a big race. We will just have to see how he came out of it."

Rick Mettee, who oversees U.S. operations for Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin Racing, said Regal Ransom and Girolamo, eighth and 12th, respectively, in the Classic, were fine after the race.

"There are a lot of good races out there for Regal Ransom, but yesterday on the synthetic was not one of them. Girolamo was obviously not ready for that level of competition," Mettee said.

With training hours back to normal at Santa Anita on the day after the Breeders’ Cup, Brian Koriner, a Santa Anita-based trainer who had a big win Nov. 7, went about his business as usual. Koriner saddled California Flag, a California-bred gelding owned by Hi Card Ranch, to win the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint.

"Mission accomplished," Koriner said from horseback as he accompanied horses to the track for training. "We will take it day by day. But there are not a lot of opportunities for big purses in turf sprints in this country, so we will probably look at races in Hong Kong."

All in all, the consensus among the morning after crowd at Santa Anita was that the track, Breeders’ Cup, and horsemen put on a great show Nov. 6-7.

And that Zenyatta should be Horse of the Year.