Thrill of a Lifetime - By Susan Hayden Kennedy

(Originally published in the November 6, 2010 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)

While watching Zenyatta run the Lady’s Secret Stakes (gr. I) on television Oct. 2, I had my 10-year-old niece on the phone, acting as her play-by-play announcer.

“Zenyatta broke cleanly,” I intoned. “She’s running in last position, but that’s normal for her. She’s chugging right along, behind the four others. OK, she’s nearing the far turn. She’s igniting her engines. She’s passed one horse. She’s passed two horses. She’s up to the third.” My voice intensified. “The lead horse, Switch, is running full out now. Zenyatta is into the lane, and she has a couple lengths to make up yet. Switch is still ahead. Zenyatta is charging. ‘Go, Zen, go! Come on, Z!’ The wire has to be coming up. Go, Zenyatta, goooo!”

I’m screaming now. My heart’s pounding. My husband, normally a rather indifferent observer, is yelling encouragement. Even the beagle is howling. I collapse, spent, onto the sofa, and hear my niece calling, “Aunt Susan, did she win? Did she win? Did she win? Aunt Susan?”

Did she ever!

The next day I read Steve Haskin’s declaration that there are no words left to describe Zenyatta. The adjectives are all used up. Like the last shake from a ketchup bottle. The last desperate squeeze of a tube of toothpaste. Or the final licks of ice cream in the Ben and Jerry’s carton. Perhaps it’s fitting. Zenyatta is worthy of much more than adjectives. She requires metaphors.

Like, Zenyatta is a thrill ride. She is the ride we come to the park to experience. The tallest, longest, fastest of them all. Although Mike Smith sits astride her back, we’re riding her, too, blood pumping, heart pounding. Watching Zenyatta cruise along the backstretch, loping almost lazily, anticipation churns in our guts just as on the roller coaster that climbs that first steep hill or the drop-zone chairs that lumber their way to the top of the skyscraping pole. Zenyatta jolts us into the thrill of the moment as she accelerates into the far turn. We’re flying on the rails with her, laughing and screaming, feeling our hearts in our throats. We’re exhilarated, then spent, as she cruises to a stop. We long to get back on again.

Zenyatta is a haunted house at Halloween. We tune in eagerly for her races, all the while biting our nails and covering our eyes. She creates the tingly fear that stands our hair on end and raises goosebumps. Her races are not for the fainthearted. She should come with a warning for pregnant women and people with heart conditions. We will quake and quiver. But it’s a deliberate encounter with her fearsome stature and power; we want to feel frightened. We’re willing to be tested—our stamina, our mettle—because we know we’ll be all right at the end. Zenyatta will win, and we’ll survive the experience to repeat it next time. In fact, we’ll look forward to it.

Minus the expenses, Zenyatta is a trip to Paris, France, or Florence, Italy. We easily expend a roll of film on her. To look at her, to study her lines and curves, is to wonder at the artistic masterpieces that grace the Louvre or the Galleria dell’Accademia; to gape at the flawless perfection of the voluptuous Venus de Milo or Michelangelo’s stunningly muscled David. Zenyatta’s 17-hand height, her strong, defined shoulder, and robust hindquarters are art and architecture, ambience and culture. She is testament to her provenance; she is the paragon of her kind. Like Paris itself, Zenyatta doesn’t disappoint.

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And Zenyatta is even a sensual experience. She is the femme fatale in each encounter. Before each contest, she teases admirers and adversaries alike with the allure of her prancing and strutting. She gazes at her onlookers with pride and confidence in her ability and her appearance. As we experience her ambition, her drive, her physical exertion in the stretch, we revel in the rocking motion of her long strides and the explosiveness of her relentless finish. She is beauty, brains, and power.

Do I exaggerate? I may. But I’m willing to bet, in your own experiences of Zenyatta, you’ve shared in at least one of these scenarios. In her presence we are thrill seekers. Risk takers. Adrenaline junkies. Admirers and lovers. She may be beyond words, but we are not. Thanks, Zenyatta, for being a thrill in our lifetimes. 

Susan Hayden Kennedy is a high school English teacher.


Leave a Comment:


Well written! I can hardly wait to see The Queen run on Saturday. I feel we are in for a real treat. Let's all pray Mike Smith gets a good nights sleep on Friday.

03 Nov 2010 3:27 PM

What a wonderful article!!  It totally puts my feelings into words as I watch her race every time.

03 Nov 2010 4:13 PM

Susan, I think you described the Zen experience just perfectly! I have lost words to describe her as well and like you, have to use analogies instead.  I have never seen her in person, I don't think I could handle being in her presence without fainting from being Star Struck!  

Zen has done so much for so many of the fans, it's undescribable what she has done and how she has touched our lives and given us hope again.  She is doing for us today what Secretariat did in his day!!

03 Nov 2010 4:13 PM

Hi!I from Russia/Tver.I am 12.

I know English a little.

I study it 5 years.

Zenyatta-- My favourite horse!

I love you Zenyatta!

You the unique champion on light! You will bypass any stallion, and furthermore a mare!

Good luck to you!

Please, do not forget, чтов Russia it is a lot of admirers of Zenyatta!

03 Nov 2010 4:17 PM

This is beautiful (like Zenyatta) and creative.  One thing to add is that she brings tears to the eyes as she finishes her races, with majesty and perfection.  I still have this experience, too, whenever I watch a tape of Secretariat's Belmont.  Good Luck and be safe, Zenyatta.

03 Nov 2010 4:26 PM
Fuzzy Corgi

Susan, you hit the nail on the head. Bravo!

03 Nov 2010 4:35 PM

The first time I ever heard of Zenyatta was when she was listed in Oprah's 2010 O Power List. Since then, I have watched all the videos, read all the articles and am a huge fan. Queen Z just KNOWS! You can see the intelligence in her eyes. She's a gentle giant with a huge heart.

Win or lose this Saturday - she has earned HOTY - she should have gotten it last year.

03 Nov 2010 4:56 PM

Oversaid but still true - poetry in motion.

03 Nov 2010 4:58 PM
Barbara W

I could just die because we have a family wedding we have to attend Saturday afternoon. We will be recording on 3 tvs!

I don't think I could stand the pressure of actually being there. I would be so nervous for her. Go, Queen Zen, and may they all come home safely.

03 Nov 2010 5:34 PM

Wow, Susan! You had me there again, tears in the eyes and all. (I hope your students count themselves lucky.) Let's rejoice in the opportunity for vast superlatives for this deserving creature - we might not have the likes of her again.

03 Nov 2010 5:44 PM

Thank you for putting into words the feelings that I share with you and many others about Zenyatta.  You have stated eloquently what I could never find the words for.  It's only Wednesday and already I am a nervous wreck for Saturday to get here.  My heart knows she can win it, but my head reads the reports right here on Bloodhorse about how well all the others are doing and my stomach starts doing jittery flip-flops.  The other part of my brain, which is somewhat functional, worries also about how lonely it will seem next year with Zenyatta not racing, but there's the Breeders Cup Classic to get through first.  Thank you for sharing such a great story with us.  

03 Nov 2010 5:46 PM
Donna S.

My BC tickets are already in my suitcase. I'll be coming down from Ohio. Just have to see her in person. Looking at the other horses in the race I just don't know how any of them can beat her.

Just hang on to her Mike and bring her home safely.

03 Nov 2010 8:48 PM

Quality Road all the way for the classic.   If Quality Road goes 147. and change for the a mile and one eighth of the mile and a quarter classic then Quality Road wins by 20 lengths and Zenyatta is not around at the end.   In horse racing you have to go back in time to see  what has to be done the day of a race.

03 Nov 2010 8:57 PM

A wonderful and well written article about the Queen!  Zenyatta brings a thrill to all those who watch her race.  She uplifts our spirits when we find ourselves saddened by the current state of our economy.  She gives us hope when hope is but a memory.  She has a can do attitude that fills our veins with hope for the future.  She dances as though she is a wispy cloud in the sky, and when she runs she brings tears of joy to our eyes.  She is Queen Zenyatta -win or lose she has given her all for her fans.  She remains the Queen.  Thank you to the Moss family and thank you John and all of Zenyatta's team!

04 Nov 2010 12:35 AM

Lovely piece about the great Zenyatta -- and lucky students to have you as a teacher!

04 Nov 2010 6:28 AM

There still is one adjective left to describe her, and that would be OVERATED.

Can't wait to see all the Z fans crying after the BCC.  

04 Nov 2010 10:19 AM

At first when I started to watch Zenyatta, I thought, "Wow, what a big girl!" Then I thought as she barely won a few races that she was pretty lucky. I then realized how magnificent she is. She is so intelligent, she knows where the wire is and how much she needs to do to pull off a win.  

I can't imagine what kind of a race we will see on Saturday. I am praying for safety for all and great weather

04 Nov 2010 11:34 AM

Joe, and Canz, what Scrooges you are. This article is about the Zenyatta experience. You are both being very small and mean-spirited.

If Zenyatta is defeated it will not be because she did not try... and because she has no ability or a poor trainer or lousy jockey. There are some excellent horses in this race and if -- no, WHEN -- Zenyatta finishes ahead of them, then it will need no more naysaying. I notice Gio Ponti didn't want to try again against her... and he too is an excellent horse.  

If she loses? She has still done more than most horses, male or female, in the last 100 years or so. Great mares are to be treasured... such as the amazing Goldikova, and Ruffian, and Vodka, and Zarkava, and Sunline, and Makybe Diva (you Scrooges may not know about her, she won the Melbourne Cup 3 times, 2 miles against 20+ horse fields, the equivalent of our Kentucky Derby but for all ages and genders... all of Australia stops to watch it).

GO ZEN and you have millions of supporters and admirers. Come home happy.

04 Nov 2010 2:34 PM

SHE is absolutely Amazing.  I was lucky enough to see her at Breeder's Cup in Santa Anita and even got up close to her.  Just beautiful every inch of her!

04 Nov 2010 8:17 PM


04 Nov 2010 11:20 PM

Canz, this is not the place.

06 Nov 2010 11:20 AM

I'm the one she's talking about! I do think that Zenyatta will win on Saturday. She will beat the boys just like last year! Go Zenyatta  

06 Nov 2010 6:21 PM
Richie D

Susan, Great article!!!!  I am lucky enough to have seen Zenyatta run live 5 times.  What a treat it was to see such a beautiful animal in person.  Her loss on Satuday has not changed my thoughts on her one bit.  That was a valiant effort she made on a track she clearly didn't care for at all.

I have attended live racing hundreds of times over the years and I will tell you seeing her run live is quite an experiance.  The crowds, the electricity in the air, the anticipation of what was about to unfold, being there was unbelievable.  When she made her run down the stretch the hair stood up on the back of your neck, somehow you just knew you were seeing something special even back in 08 it just seemed like she was destined for greatness.  My most vivid memory will always be seeing her last three races in person prior to the BC and the number of people that she brought to the track all cheering her home and not a dry eye in the stands when she danced her way into the winners circle.  

09 Nov 2010 5:21 PM
Nola Ross

Susan, your article just says it all about our darling.  you put into words how I feel about her.  had a hard time getting through your article, had to keep drying my eye.  kept thinking, yes, this is how I feel!  keep hoping maybe she'll do one more race.  I can't imagine not being able to put her races on my calendar, I won't have this exciting anticipation waiting for the next race.  my daughters don't like horseracing but they watched and screamed at each of her races.  There is just something about her.....

10 Nov 2010 9:52 AM
Wayne A. LeBlanc

Susan, your message is well written. The SUPER HORSE,ZENYATTA, may have lost the race by a neck,but performed like the champion she is.I drove from Louisiana to see her run in person and was thrilled to see this horse up close. She is truly the QUEEN.Also THANKS to the Moss's for sharing these great moments.

GOD BLESS ALL.........

30 Nov 2010 2:35 PM

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