Now that the dust has settled on Zenyatta's marvelous Breeders' Cup win, I thought it would be a good time to catch up with her trainer, John Shirreffs, who is one of the nicer guys in racing. Admittedly, my motives were a bit self-serving, as I wanted to inquire about two of the hot-button topics surrounding Zenyatta: Her future and of course, the Horse of the Year debate.
If nothing else, at least we found out there is reason to hope Zenyatta will race as a 5-year-old.
JShan: It's been a little more than week since Zenyatta won the Ladies Classic, which also gave you your first Breeders' Cup victory. Has it all sunk in yet?
JShirr: It's been such a thrilling season with her and there was so much riding on the Breeders' Cup, not only for me but all the connections. There was an Eclipse Award hanging in the balance and just so much at stake on one race. When she finally won it was just one of those magical moments I will never forget. It was really such a thrill. You only have so many opportunities with horses like this. She has done so much for all of us.
JShan: Like you said, the Eclipse Award was hanging in the balance. Now that you locked up at least one of them, how does that feel?
JShirr: It's going to be so much fun getting that award. To be able to see her name on the Distaff Eclipse Award is going to be such a tremendous honor. It's going to be something I'll always treasure.
JShan: The debate has already begun as far as Horse of the Year honors. It seems it may come down to a two-horse race between Zenyatta and Curlin. Make your case for Zenyatta.
JShirr: Well, I think when you look at the quality of fillies she ran against and beat, she has to be considered. She had to step up every race, and she did. Running against who she did, she had to improve on a monthly basis to keep winning, and she did.
JShan: What do you say to people who think a filly should have to beat the boys to earn Horse of the Year?
JShirr: It's already been proven that you don't have to; look at Azeri. (Zenyatta) went undefeated against a very tough group of fillies this year and had to overcome a lot of adversity. Now, of course, she didn't have run against any Wanderin Boy's...
JShan: Also playing devil's advocate, what about the people who say she only raced outside of California once?
JShirr: The race she won at Oaklawn was a stellar field. I think every horse that came out of that race either won or placed in a stakes. Also, she shouldn't be penalized for racing in California. Remember, she was racing on surfaces she didn't even really like. She preferred dirt. But the Breeders' Cup was in California this year, so there was no reason to ship her anywhere else.
I think it's great to have a Horse of the Year debate. However it comes out, I'll be OK. We're going to be thrilled just getting the Distaff award.
JShan: The other thing people want to know is what the future holds for Zenyatta. Has anything been decided yet?
JShirr: We're going to take our time and do a lot of diagnostic work on her, head-to-toe. We'll give her a little break and then map out a plan.
JShand: Is there any chance she races again this year?
JShirr: No chance.
JShan: Even though you and the Mosses have not made a decision on her future yet, I get the feeling from the things I've been reading and hearing there is a better than 50-50 chance she will race as a 5-year-old?
JShirr: If we're leaning one way, I'd say it's towards running her. We'll announce that a little later.
JShan: Nobody could have predicted how great Zenyatta has been, but looking back to the beginning, how early did you know she had the potential to be something special?
JShirr: Very early on. When she was being broken in Ocala there were a lot of 2-year-olds there. They always told us she was the best one at the place.
JShan: And yet she only fetched $60,000 as a yearling?
JShirr: It was just perfect timing. Balance (her multiple graded stakes winning half-sister) hadn't appeared yet and there were no grade I winners. And it was Street Cry's first yearlings. We were very fortunate.
JShan: What was the biggest challenge in training Zenyatta?
JShirr: When you have a horse as talented as she is, it's just making sure we didn't make any mistakes. We didn't want to get in her way. We wanted to do what was best for her and take care of her the best way we knew how. Everything has been so magical.