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
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
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.
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.