Hangin' With Haskin: Farewell to a Queen

 It is finally time to say goodbye. Mighty Mare Zenyatta has been retired; and this time it is official, as she departs for Lane’s End Farm in Versailles, Ky. in early December.

Despite having her remarkable 19-race winning streak ended in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I), by only a short head, Zenyatta not only added to her legacy, she acquired even more fans and admirers than she had before.

It was just prior to the Classic, in which she came from almost 20 lengths back to be beaten a head by Blame, that Zenyatta’s fame actually reached mainstream America thanks to a segment on “60 minutes,” a feature in Sports Illustrated, and a full-page spread in W Magazine.

Just like that, Zenyatta’s legions of fans multiplied many times over. A large number of those new fans admitted they knew little or nothing about her beforehand. Now, here they were, screaming at their TV screens, pleading for Zenyatta to get up in those final agonizing strides.

I have written numerous stories and blogs about the phenomenon that is Zenyatta, from her unprecedented winning streak, coming from dead-last in almost every race, to her endearing pre-race and post-race antics, and finally to the extraordinary impact she had on people emotionally, and the many tales of inspiration she provided.

For this particular space at this particular time, it’s all about looking ahead, as Zenyatta’s career and her accomplishments have been well recorded for posterity.

And looking ahead is something that Zenyatta’s connections dread in many ways, as they try to come to terms with life without their great mare. This is not about letting go of a racehorse. It is about letting go of a kindred spirit that has encompassed their lives for so many years.

“It is tough to deal with this,” said Dottie Shirreffs, wife of trainer John Shirreffs and racing manager for Jerry and Ann Moss. “John has had her in the barn for 4 1/2 years.  Each day, they have been together...along with Mario (Espinoza), Steve (Willard), and the rest of the crew. We are trying to do our best here, but...it is tough.

“John made the comment he could not put anyone in that stall for a long time. The one thing that is so fabulous, though, is that she is healthy, happy, and doing great. What a way to retire as an athlete. I am so happy for her.”

Zenyatta’s departure also will be an emotional experience for her devoted fans, many of whom have been touched on a deeply personal level by their heroine’s courage, consistency, and unique ability to connect with people on a much higher plane than any other Thoroughbred in memory.

Dottie Shirreffs assures that Zenyatta will always have her “family” around her.

“We do want family around and to have that connection and bond with her after she leaves John's barn,” she said. “We want someone there who can take photos, videos, etc. and send them to us....from our family. This is why I am also doing the Daily Diary on the website, Zenyatta.com -- to keep all of her fans aware of what is going on with her. We feel a responsibility to the fans, public, and industry to do so, and, it goes without saying, to Zenyatta.
“She will be in a place where family and friends can see her, hug her, kiss her, and visit her. We are trying to do our best to be sure these details are all honored in relation to Zenyatta and her future. There will be trees for her to stand under, and lots of grass for her to graze on each day.”

That’s not a lot to ask for from a Queen.

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