Yes, there is room for one final Zenyatta column. Farewells have a way of inspiring them.
On Sunday, Hollywood Park will become racing’s mecca, as fans of all ages bow and pray in their own manner to a Thoroughbred that has become goddess-like to her thousands of self-proclaimed subjects. They have worshipped Zenyatta up close and from afar, and it is safe to say that no Thoroughbred has ever developed such a deep emotional bond with the fans.
Many of us who cast our thoughts and opinions down on paper for a living have unashamedly left behind the pragmatic world of reason and logic and entered the sentimental world that Zenyatta inhabits. Once there, the compulsion to gush in public and paint scenes of flowering hills and colorful characters from My Little Pony is too strong to resist.
Have we been drugged or seduced or even bewitched? I don’t believe there is a plausible answer to that. Zenyattaland is virgin territory, and you can either choose to enter and drink the elixir or not. Some hardened souls might feel that elixir is nothing more than Kool-Aid, but in this day and age, if the only repercussions from such mass hysteria are countless smiles, looks of wonderment, and being inspired to write songs, poems, and florid phrases, count me in.
Some have even credited a spiritual-like connection with her for their ability to overcome tragedy and physical infirmities. Why Zenyatta, as opposed to other great champions? One can attempt to answer that with the usual attributes – courage, consistency, determination, personality etc. But that is merely brushing the canvas with soft strokes. The truth is, there is no answer, so why try to explain the unexplainable?
To quote Hamlet, “There are more things in heaven and earth…”
Racing nowadays has too many pressing problems that are trying to be solved by too many people with their heads in the sand. Once in a while, or in Zenyatta’s case, once in a lifetime, it does one good to clean the sand out of the eyes and nose and come up for a breath of fresh air. On December 6, when Zenyatta boards the plane for Kentucky, we can all return to the myriad of problems in racing and see if we don’t miss the magic carpet ride she has taken us on for three years. It was only until recently that the rest of the world decided to hop aboard. Just when Zenyatta’s name finally began to infiltrate mainstream America through every medium it was time to say goodbye.
When Zenyatta bids farewell for the last time (that isn’t redundant in her case), I, unfortunately, will be 3,000 miles away. But having gotten so close to her before and especially after the Breeders’ Cup, I feel that was enough to last a lifetime. Well, let’s just say at least enough to last until mid-January when I visit her at Lane’s End Farm.
Just as the mystique of Zenyatta is difficult to explain, so is the reaction of people after being in her presence or watching her run. How do you explain the legendary trainer Allen Jerkens waking up in the middle of the night, and the first thing he thinks about is Zenyatta?
“Even though she got beat in the Classic, what she did was one of the great things of all time,” Jerkens said. “It would have been so special had she pulled it off. That night when I woke up I just kept thinking about it. In my lifetime, I can’t remember a horse that kept on winning like that for so long. I know I’ve never seen anything like it. They will look at the Classic the same way they look at Man o’War getting beat.”
Speaking of Man o’War, that brings us to the matter of perfection. Was it perfection that endeared Zenyatta to so many people? No one would think so after witnessing all the outpouring of love and admiration following the Classic. She actually became more of an iconic figure than she was while undefeated.
Man o’War wasn’t perfect: neither was Native Dancer, each suffering one career defeat. But their defeats have become a part of racing lore, just as much, if not more, than their victories. Literature has shown us that perfection can be interpreted in many ways.
Truman Capote once wrote about Babe Paley, a well-known New York socialite, “Babe Paley had only one fault: she was perfect. Otherwise, she was perfect.”
With that thinking, Zenyatta, from a statistical standpoint, wasn’t perfect, which in the end made her perfect.