Horsemen: Give Zenyatta HOY

December, 22, 2010
On November 16, 1991, the Daily Racing Form published "an informal poll of some of the nation's leading trainers and jockeys," which had been conducted to "get an idea of what horsemen (were) thinking" regarding the raging debate over Eclipse Award honors for Horse of the Year. Then, Black Tie Affair emerged with the popular vote -- and indeed, the colt took home the title a few weeks later. Here, many of the same connections polled in that piece give their opinions on Blame vs. Zenyatta in this season's race for the sport's most coveted honor.

ANGEL CORDERO (jockey, retired): "Last year I thought both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta deserved to be Horse of the Year. I would have given it to both of them. When they said it couldn't be a tie, that was baloney. This year, Zenyatta is the sentimental favorite for everybody because she did so much for racing. She's done more for racing than any other horse since Secretariat. She caught the attention of the whole nation, even people who didn't follow the sport, and talent-wise I think she was very outstanding. Blame was great this year because he won multiple Grade 1 races and beat her. It's hard for me to pick. One of the two is going to win. As a retired athlete I look at it differently now -- I don't compare the horses to see who's better, I'm just trying to keep my eyes on them and enjoy. I see the talent and the athleticism in both of them, and I admire that."

GARY CONTESSA (trainer): "I think Zenyatta should have been Horse of the Year last year and I think she deserves it this year. What she accomplished and did for the game was all positive. If you look at the year in retrospect, from the problems with NYRA almost going out of business to Santa Anita taking out the synthetic track, all the negative things that happened in racing in the year 2010, Zenyatta has eclipsed in the minds of every racing fan. Her greatness gave fans all over the world something to watch. There were more eyes on the Breeders' Cup Classic than ever before and the whole world was Zenyatta, Zenyatta, Zenyatta. She brought to racing what racing needed the most, and if it weren't for her the entire year, as far as I'm concerned, would have been a bust. She bailed out the racing industry this year. Blame didn't capture the hearts and minds of everybody. There were lots of good horses this year, but there was only one great horse."

JERRY BAILEY (jockey, retired): "It's very simple to me. Blame gets it. I'm still astonished that Zenyatta didn't win last year. She deserved it over Rachel Alexandra by anyone's standards. Having said that, my heart is with Zenyatta, but you have to give it to Blame based on the fact that both had one loss and in the heads up, Blame beat her. I'm not saying she might not have been the better horse with better luck, but it's like a golf score -- give me the final number, no explanation. She's done a great thing for the industry, but as much as it was a travesty not to give it to her last year, it would be a travesty this year to give it to her based on the argument that she deserved it then when Blame deserves it now."

PAT KELLY (trainer): "One thing's for sure, there's plenty of opinions about it. I'm a Zenyatta person, myself. I really think her body of work on the track should be recognized and this year's effort in the Classic still proved her greatness in spite of the loss. Filly against the boys, everybody thought she was basically a West Coast horse because of the tracks out there, but she carried herself around there at Churchill. She just barely missed. If Blame had won by a bigger margin or easier victory, it might have been questionable then, but she showed up more than a lot of people thought she would. We'll hear a lot of grief if she doesn't get it, that's for sure. And it's amazing what she's brought to the sport, the goodwill and interest. So that's where I'm at. Blame won the Classic and theoretically most everybody who wins those Breeders' Cup races gets Eclipse Award honors, but I hope she wins it because she's been a great ambassador for our sport.

CHRIS MCCARRON (jockey, retired): "Zenyatta, Zenyatta, Zenyatta! I know it's not a lifetime achievement award, but my goodness, how much more does a horse need to do? You can't hold it against her that she didn't like the track at Churchill Downs. She ran incredibly well in spite of it. Jeepers creepers, what a travesty it would be for her to have done what she's done for racing and get beat and finish second for Horse of the Year again. So put me down for the 'Big Z,' please. It makes me sick to my stomach that the polls are in favor of Blame."

JERRY HOLLENDORFER (trainer): "If I had a vote I'd vote for Zenyatta, but I have to admit that would be a very prejudiced vote. I really haven't given much consideration to other horses that will be nominated. She's been such an influence in the West that, as a West coast trainer, you kind of have to root for her. The one thing that surprised me this year, though, is the number of fans she does have back East. When I was running Blind Luck in Philadelphia, people were rooting for her. True, Horse of the Year isn't supposed to be a popularity vote, it's supposed to be for the horse that was the best. But I really haven't looked into Blame's record. That's why I say I'm prejudiced.

NEIL HOWARD (trainer): "This is a tough one. If you love racing like we all do, then you're torn. I know every couple years an argument comes up about dual awards, but that's probably not the greatest idea. I think when it gets down to it we're probably better off relying on what happened on the proving grounds, on the racetrack. In that case, you have to vote for Blame. But on the other hand, this is what we all live and breathe, this business, and look at what Zenyatta's done for racing. The existing fans, the new fans, the old fans, the young fans -- she's probably done more for racing since Secretariat. You saw the reception she got at Keeneland. And from reading letters to the editor in The Blood-Horse from these people that touched her -- they likened it to touching Joe Namath or shaking hands with Paul McCartney or something like that, they didn't want to wash their hands afterwards. So what do you do when it gets right down to it? I guess you go with the Classic as the deciding factor because when you have a split like that, you let the championship game decide. It's still a tough one because she shipped to Blame's home ballpark and the track at Churchill can be tricky sometimes. When they were passing the grandstand the first time it looked like it took her an eighth of a mile to get her feet under her -- in a race where you know you can't lose even one step. To watch her run like she did then vote for Blame, that's tough. I'm talking about splitting hairs here, splitting very fine hairs. I wouldn't want to be in your shoes."



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