I stated in my last blog that it would be the last one on Zenyatta. Well, now that her farewell appearances at Hollywood and Keeneland have come and gone, I have discovered the Zenyatta reservoir is a lot deeper than I thought.
That revelation came after witnessing the scenes at both places via TV and video, especially seeing over a thousand people huddled together in 20-degree temperatures, with snow beneath their feet, reaching out to try to touch Zenyatta. That is why they traveled from all over the country – to touch, to see, and to feel. They stood in the frigid darkness, with only the amber lights from the sales walking ring to illuminate Zenyatta’s dappled frame, creating an almost surrealistic atmosphere. And I wasn’t even there.
I am not going to expound again on Zenyatta’s virtues and her accomplishments. Those have been well recorded for posterity. This will be devoted mainly to her fans and those who scoff at them. Some feel the reverence in which Zenyatta is held is over the top; in many cases reaching a spiritual level. They mock the fervor they display in expressing their emotions. Many Zenyatta fans will admit to having reached a spiritual connection with her.
For many of us, horses are a way of life. It is not something that was forced upon us. We have chosen to allow these magnificent creatures to infiltrate our very being and touch our souls in a way that bonds us to them – yes, at rare times spiritually. The foundation between humans and horses was built centuries ago. Whether it is a racehorse, a riding horse, a show horse, or any horse that becomes a part of our life, there is always going to be that rare one who comes along and enters some hallowed sphere deep within us.
I have been involved in racing for 43 years and have seen the great ones come and go. I accepted their retirements with no problem and proceeded to look for the next great one. So, why can’t I do that with Zenyatta? Why is this void so much larger than all the previous ones? I have gotten close to almost every great horse of my lifetime, but why did I feel like a star struck kid being up close to Zenyatta? Why am I worried about her being on a breeding farm without the human contact and adoring crowds that became such a major part of her life? Why do I actually feel she is going to miss John Shirreffs and Mario Espinoza and Steve Willard, and Dottie Shirreffs, and the Mosses, and everyone else who has fed her large doses of love over the years? Why am I anthropomorphizing and not doing it in a metaphorical or literary manner?
I know this doesn’t sound rational from a so-called veteran of the sport who has seen its best and worst sides. I should know better, right? After all, the Derby trail is about to commence yet again, and I should be thinking about Uncle Mo and To Honor and Serve, and all the up-and-coming stars that will be unveiled in the next few months.
Racing, despite its many problems, is a wonderful sport; one in which we can escape, whether through the love of the horse, the thrill of riding, the art of training, or the intoxicating stimulation provided by handicapping and gambling.
So, why, with the state of the sport on which we depend so heavily, and the state of the world itself, in such turmoil are some people so bothered by the fact that a horse can make so many feel so good? Why do they even care if the hardcore Zenyatta faithful are able find a spiritual connection with a magnificent animal who has affected their lives in such a positive manner?
Most of the people I have met who “worship” Zenyatta are warm and caring, and have chosen for a variety of reasons to idolize a horse. So, why is it anyone else’s business if they choose to be dreamers and tilt at windmills? There is enough cynicism in our everyday lives. If someone wishes to escape for a few moments of their life into a world of beauty and innocence, who is to say that world is any less real than their everyday world?
Don Quixote was considered mad for his constant search for beauty and honor in a tumultuous world. As the padre says to Dr. Carrasco, who is trying to get Quixote committed, “There goes either the maddest wise man or the wisest mad man in the world.” When Carrasco insists that Quixote is mad, the padre responds: “The cure…may it not be worse than the disease.”
I am currently on vacation, doing very little to occupy my time and thoughts other than to scout around for Christmas presents. It is apparent by now that neither vacation nor Christmas nor my daughter’s impending Nutcracker performance has been able to thrust Zenyatta out of my brain completely.
So, here I sit during my time off writing about a horse...again. A horse whose likes and effect on people will never be seen again.
Ah, that felt good. See, Zenyatta even has the power to enable me to create my own cathartic experience. Now perhaps I can move on and start seeing the world in red once again -- the world of Santa Claus, nutcrackers, and then roses.
As for Zenyatta, I’ll see you in January, and despite the perceived madness that might await me, I look forward to begin tilting at windmills once again.