(By Avalyn Hunter)
Perfection is a rare thing in any field. In sports, those who achieve it become legends. Yet sometimes the desire to maintain an unbeaten record can become self-defeating. Football fans know this well; every year, at least one Top 10 team goes down because it played, not to win, but not to lose–and, in so doing, lost to a team willing to take more chances. And perhaps the mighty Zenyatta was the victim of a similar mindset, not so much in regard to her chances for Horse of the Year as to the quest for greatness.
Make no mistake about it, Zenyatta is a great racehorse. Even in defeat, she displayed a magnificence that stirred the heart. But when the emotions have long since died down and only the records remain, what will be her place among the greats? My feeling is that it will be less than it could have been, not because of any fault in the mare herself, but because of overly conservative management. With the exception of Zenyatta’s two runs in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I), her connections played not to lose and in the end lost twice, losing both Zenyatta’s unbeaten record and, perhaps, a greater place in history.
Perhaps it would have been better if she had lost her first race and not her last. With no unbeaten mark on the line, there might have been more incentive to take some chances and tackle greater challenges. Even if Zenyatta had remained in California, she had more than enough talent to tackle the males in the Golden State’s premier races: the Santa Anita Handicap, the Hollywood Gold Cup, and the Pacific Classic (all gr. I). Those opportunities are forever gone, and with them the reputation that might have been.