A Day with Zenyatta and Rachel

If you took all the passion that Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra sparked during their respective reigns in 2009 and 2010 and converted it into pure energy you could keep the Sport of Kings (and Queens) running at full speed for the next 20 years.

The resounding cheers, the rocking grandstands, and the free-flowing tears of joy have subsided, as racing’s two queens now live the quiet life awaiting their first foals. But out of sight is not out of mind, and both mares continue to inspire their legions of fans, who after a year still are fueled by the countless memories and unforgettable moments they experienced while in the presence of two of the greatest and charismatic fillies of all time.

Individually, Zenyatta and Rachel were powerful forces traveling on parallel paths. Together, they triggered arguably the most heated debate in the history of the sport. Sadly, or perhaps not so sadly, they never met on the field of battle, thus keeping alive a rivalry only of the mind…and the heart.

Today, an audience with one is a rare moment to cherish. An audience with both in the same day borders on the surreal.

So it was that I, Ernie Munick, and Richie Migliore departed the frenzied atmosphere of the Breeders’ Cup in Louisville, Ky. on a glorious, cloudless day and headed out I-64 toward Lexington and our scheduled visits with Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra.

Mig, who had the privilege of working Zenyatta when she was young, still talks about the energy she emitted. Last fall, he said, “When you get inside a horse’s space, you can feel their energy, and sometimes, you can’t believe what you’re feeling. I’ve been around a lot of great horses, so it’s not like I go ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ because they’re good horses. But feeling her energy was a genuine sensation that I had only felt when I was around Seattle Slew at the farm. It’s hard to describe, but it’s similar to the feeling you get walking into Churchill Downs on Derby Day. I just know with Zenyatta and Slew I’ve never felt anything like that in my life…never. She had become this amazing animal, and the energy she gave out was unbelievable.”

He was now about to feel it again.

Ernie, who has worked in racing in numerous capacities over the years and currently provides online video coverage for the Breeders’ Cup and race analysis for NYRA, has as infectious a personality as anyone I’ve ever met. And, pardon the cliché, he wears his heart on his sleeve, and has no reservations about declaring his love for Rachel Alexandra. He even admitted having feelings of guilt visiting Zenyatta and putting together a one-year-later video on her for the Breeders’ Cup website. But knowing his visit to Rachel was still to come and the feelings he still had for her, he had to wonder how he would hold up seeing her again after more than a year and on a more intimate level.

I am not going to compare visits or appearances or personal feelings, because they all seemed to blend together to form a single magical experience. I will say their coats were resplendent and showed no sign of the impending winter. Both mares were brought out of their barns and allowed us to hug, kiss, pet, and hold them (or to be more concise, dote on them) for a good 45 minutes each. Zenyatta in fact was being weighed when we arrived and Rachel actually was already standing outside her barn waiting for us. Everyone we met at both farms couldn’t have been friendlier or more gracious.

I spent the better part of last November gushing over Zenyatta in a series of columns that I’m sure many of the more pragmatic readers felt were maudlin at the very least. The year before, in describing Rachel’s Woodward Stakes victory, I had the Saratoga grandstand all but rocking as if it had been jolted by one of those biblical-like thunderstorms so common to the area. It was pretty much the same story after Zenyatta’s Breeders’ Cup Classic victory. I may have been the victim of my own hyperbole and sentimentality in writing about Zenyatta and Rachel, especially the events following Zenyatta’s Classic defeat, but in retrospect, who cares? The words “hyperbole” and “maudlin” have no meaning and hold no significance when you’re reaching into your heart…oops, there I go again.

All I go by now is the look on Ernie’s face when he first laid eyes on Rachel, while trying to hold his emotions in check, or his filming and narrating his Zenyatta video, putting his guilt feelings temporarily on hold and appreciating being in the presence of greatness. I go by the moment after his posing for pictures with Rachel when he simply pressed his lips together and turned away, saying nothing. I go by Richie reiterating that special feeling of entering Zenyatta’s energy zone. And I go by my own feelings as I looked at these two placid mothers-to-be and was flooded by a wave of memories, recalling two gallant and determined heroines who possessed the power to touch people like few before them. Their siren calls can still be heard and likely will for years to come.

OK, I admit, I cannot write about either one without sounding maudlin. But that is a foible I can live with.

Rather than continue to attempt to describe our unforgettable afternoon, I will conclude by posting several photos and let each one take the place of a thousand words.

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