Zenyatta and Blame: A year later
Updated: November 2, 2011, 3:14 PM ETBy Claire Novak | Special to ESPN.com
Bobby Shiflet/Frames On MainZenyatta is due to have her first foal in early 2012.LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Her coat is thicker now, fuzzy with the changing seasons and with winter coming on. Days shorten and temperatures dip at night across the bluegrass. The foal inside her rounding belly grows. Twelve short months ago, Zenyatta went charging down a sandy strip at Churchill Downs in the race of her life, an unprecedented bid to repeat her historic score in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Her incredible run from far behind the field on that cold November evening was not quick enough to catch a gusty colt named Blame -- but their performances resulted in Eclipse Awards, with Blame earning Champion Older Horse and Zenyatta taking home honors as Champion Older Female and the 2010 Horse of the Year. Racing fans recall the buildup to that showdown, the duel beneath the lights, the announcer's frantic call as he himself urged them on -- "Zenyatta, Zenyatta, Blame and Zenyattaaaa!" -- as if it were yesterday. They remember debating over which was the better runner after Blame came out ahead by a nose, and some of them drove from across the country -- from Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Colorado, New York -- to visit the two before they were sent off to retirement safe and sound, Zenyatta with a special ceremony at Keeneland and a record of 19 wins, just one loss. Here at Churchill as the 2011 Breeders' Cup approaches, there's no shortage of buzz around current Classic contenders. But memories of last year's two top finishers are still alive and well, as are the horses that made history. Even in retirement, Zenyatta and Blame continue to impact the sport of thoroughbred racing. They will for generations to come.
The farm walks a fine line between making Zenyatta accessible to her many fans and maintaining a sense of normalcy for the new mother-to-be, who is seven months in foal to 2006 champion 3-year-old male and hot new sire Bernardini. The broodmare managers and veterinarians try to keep everything quiet and normal as possible, to let her be a horse, so they don't include opportunities to see the mare in the regular tours (although fans are permitted to schedule visits to the Lane's End stallions). For the most part, Zenyatta is turned out at night, unless inclement weather strikes. Along with her pasture buddy, a gray named Tasty Temptation, she is brought up in the morning for a few hours to eat breakfast, sleep, get groomed and get checked over. The Mosses receive regular updates from the farm on the pregnant mare's condition. They have chosen not to know the sex of the foal, and are anticipating a late February or early March arrival. "It's very exciting for everyone," said Dottie Ingordo-Shirreffs, racing manager for the Mosses and wife of the man who trained Zenyatta, John Shirreffs. "Anything would be fine, a colt or a filly, as long as it's healthy. I feel like I'm talking about a girlfriend or a family member. We've tried to average close to once each month to visit her ourselves, and any time we're in Lexington for Keeneland or the sales, we always go out to see her. John said, 'I think she's still looking at me waiting for me to check her legs whenever I see her.'" While fans can't see Zenyatta on an independent basis, tens of thousands still follow her through Facebook and through updates issued by Ingordo-Shirreffs via her website, zenyatta.com. Her connections have donated several special visits to charity as well, and the donations raised money for the local YMCA, to benefit muscular dystrophy research, for the bluegrass chapter of the Ronald McDonald House, for the Living Arts and Science Center in Lexington, for thoroughbred retirement, and for Central Kentucky Riding for Hope, a therapeutic riding center at the Kentucky Horse Park. Winning bidders (six of them thus far) have been permitted to bring up to five additional people along. Some laughed. Some cried. They all took pictures and reached out to touch the big mare's soft brown coat. "We try to keep her a broodmare and still honor some of these other situations," Ingordo-Shirreffs said. "She's used to a lot of personal attention, so she loves people and as long as she's happy, that's our priority." To the uninitiated this may sound ridiculously unexciting. But somehow, something as simple as meeting the legendary racemare with the tornado-white blaze touches people somewhere inside. Those who have met her instinctively understand. "She's one of us in a lot of ways," Ingordo-Shirreffs said. "I think a lot of people bonded with her because they were part of her life when she was racing, a part of the team, so to speak. That's what we were hoping, that everybody could get involved in some way and enjoy the sport as much as those of us who are in it daily do." The accomplishments this now 7-year-old daughter of Street Cry achieved on the racetrack are symbolic of many challenges we face in life, Ingordo-Sherriffs said. "In so many ways, she's so many people," the racing manager remarked. "She had to work to become what she was. She sold at the sale for $60,000, not $600,000, and achieving what she did, I think, means a lot to people. She never gave up. Even when her record was perfect and it still wasn't good enough, she just kept trying. She was no different from any human athlete; she had to work, watch her diet, train, deliver a consistent performance. That's just like us. If you're going to be a good athlete, a good professional, a good student, you have to work hard and keep on trying." This Friday, the Breeders' Cup will work in conjunction with the Mosses to host a special Zenyatta-themed day-long celebration at Churchill Downs. Owners and trainers have boxes and suites and places to go, the racemare's connections said, but the fans have always made their own way. This party is to honor and include them, and for many the biggest treat of all will be seeing Zenyatta appear via live video feed from her paddock at Lane's End. "We hope people will get caught up in the spirit of the Breeders' Cup," Ingordo-Shirreffs said. "Anything that can be done to bring the fans closer to the sport is a positive thing. We want people to love it as much as we all do, and it's hard to love something if you don't get close to it, but the more you're around it, the more you understand and appreciate it."
Bobby Shiflet/Frames On MainZenyatta's career will be celebrated on Breeders' Cup Friday.
MORE HORSE RACING HEADLINES
- 'Ocho' stays unbeaten with Delta Jackpot victory
- Take Charge Brandi fine in Delta Princess win
- California Horse Racing Board reviews rule
- Churchill cancels Thursday due to frozen track