Farewell to the Iron Lady

This may be a contrived recreation of Oak Tree at Santa Anita’s decision to rename the Lady’s Secret Stakes the Zenyatta Stakes, but the immediacy of it and its knee-jerk nature suggest it could be a possible scenario. Whether it has any substance or not, it is an insult to Lady’s Secret and a lack of respect for her placing among the all-time great fillies.

Zenyatta is one of the great fillies of all time and should have a race named after her, but not two and a half weeks after the Breeders’ Cup and not at the expense of Lady’s Secret. Because of the epic nature of Zenyatta’s victory and the frenzy of emotions it stirred, it looks, at least on the surface, that the Oak Tree Racing Association, wanting to get a piece of the Zenyatta craze before Hollywood Park and Del Mar did, figured it better act fast. So why not rename the Yellow Ribbon the Zenyatta? Man o'War was not a grass horse, but has a top-class grass race named after him. It's the honor that counts.

Can’t you picture Santa Anita officials getting together immediately after the Breeders’ Cup Classic and having a discussion similar to this?

“Hey, we better come up with a race named after Zenyatta before Del Mar renames the Clement Hirsch the Zenyatta or Hollywood Park renames the Vanity the Zenyatta.”

“Yep, that’s a good idea. Let’s not rename the Santa Margarita, which is run early in the year and doesn’t have that fall championship buzz to it, and it's not our race anyway. Let’s rename the Lady’s Secret. Who’s going to care if we snub a filly who ran 23 years ago? Zenyatta is the ‘now’ horse. I’m sure people don’t remember that Lady’s Secret won three grade I stakes at Santa Anita in 1986 and clinched Horse of the Year honors here in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.”

Whatever their reason, the bottom line is that Zenyatta, like the designers on “Project Runway” is in and Lady’s Secret is out. Just like that. So, 10 years from now when someone mentions a filly that won the Lady’s Secret, the reaction will be, “Huh?” But who knows, by then, another great filly might have come along and the Zenyatta Stakes also will be a fleeting memory.

So, with one hasty decision, the “Iron Lady” has been turned into scrap metal. If this is how racing preserves its history, it won’t be long before its archival pages decompose and crumble in our hands.

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The verdict is in. By a 2-1 margin, Eclipse voters will be able to write only one horse’s name down for Horse of the Year. So be it. Now, we just have to brace for the nuclear shock wave that will spread across the land when the overzealous supporters of the loser make a mad dash to their computers to express their outrage. I for one have already finished constructing my fallout shelter and will remain in hiding until the cataclysmic event has passed. And that will only happen until the first scent of roses cleanses the air and diverts our attention to the first Saturday in May.

Giving thanks

For the past year and a half, I have been writing blogs about different aspects of Thoroughbred racing, many from a historical perspective. On this occasion, I am writing a non-racing piece. Well, there is a little racing, but mainly it is an opportunity to give thanks to two people. So, you’ll have to forgive my indulgence. Whether you choose to stick around or not, this one’s for me.

First, I want to give thanks to my wife, Joan, without whom I would be drifting aimlessly through life, a lost soul and a vacant heart. I want to thank Joan for finding and nurturing that soul and filling that emptiness by becoming the essence of my very being. After 29 years of marriage, she still inspires every word and every thought that pours out of me.

From 1979 to 1981, Joan, a far more gifted writer than I’ll ever be, was the public relations coordinator for the New York Racing Association. During those years, we got engaged at Saratoga, celebrated our engagement at the Wishing Well restaurant near Saratoga with her entire family, sipped champagne in a quiet spot behind the barns at the Saratoga sales, and watched Spectacular Bid’s walkover and Affirmed’s Horse of the Year-clinching victory over the Bid in the Jockey Club Gold Cup from her office directly above the finish line. She later worked as communications director for Robert Brennan’s International Thoroughbred Breeders’ and was the media’s go-to person following Brennan’s purchase of Garden State Park. She has been my go-to person for 30 years and has always been there.

It was through her that I grew as a writer, and any rave reviews I’ve gotten from her over the years means a great deal more to me than any award. Joan also was a talented photographer, and had worked for the PR firm that handled all of NYRA’s non-finish photos. It was during her final year there that we met and my life began.

I had been on a slow, meandering journey to nowhere and everything fortuitous that has happened to me since those stagnant years toiling in the library at the Morning Telegraph and then Daily Racing Form I attribute to meeting Joan, falling in love, and embarking on a life I could only dream about.

The culmination came when our daughter, Mandy, was born. I could write an entire blog on all that Mandy has meant in my life, but I am hoping that my brief mentions of her throughout the years have allowed a small fraction of my pride to come forth.

Before this becomes way too maudlin to readers, if it hasn’t already, I just want to take this time to say thank you to Joan and Mandy for all they are and all they have given me, which is everything.

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