The Year That Was By Lenny Shulman

 (Originally published in the December 25, 2010 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.

By Lenny Shulman

After racing primarily in California in 2009, she crisscrossed the country in 2010 racing an ambitious schedule mandated by her owners and thrilling fans everywhere with her signature come-from-behind style.
Zenyatta? No, Blind Luck.

And so it went in 2010—plenty happening, but little of it going as planned.

The great Rachel Alexandra—Zenyatta face-off, hatched last January after Rachel had taken Horse of the Year honors and Zenyatta came out of retirement, was sweetened by a $5 million purse offer from Oaklawn Park and pushed by a demanding racing public. The race promised to save the sport and create nationwide interest but somehow still managed not to happen. Disastrous? No, bad luck.

After toiling in anonymity—at least outside the racing world—despite her brilliance and 19 consecutive victories, Zenyatta finally became a mainstream phenom when her story was told on the “60 Minutes” TV show. Millions of new fans got to jump on her bandwagon—right before her only defeat.

This year, racing was able to put the contentiousness of the 2009 Horse of the Year voting behind it—just in time for the contentiousness of the 2010 Horse of the Year voting.

Speaking of things not going as planned, Frank Stronach booted the Oak Tree racing meet out of Santa Anita, the only home it had known since its birth in 1969. After a four-hour racing board meeting Stronach finally agreed to change gears and host Oak Tree. A week later he decided to put a new racing surface in at Santa Anita and Oak Tree was once again shown the door, ultimately racing the dates at Hollywood Park, where it, too, toiled in anonymity.

Not to be outdone, New York took nearly a decade to begin building a slots parlor that had been approved in 2001. Even by contractors’ standards—and you can usually time their work with a calendar—this set a new benchmark for procrastination. But the hammers have been taken to nails and things are looking up in the Empire State, except for the demise of New York City’s offtrack betting network, which only threatens the existence of racing and breeding in the state.

New Jersey instituted an innovative, high-quality, high-purse race meeting at Monmouth Park that becomes the model of the future for jurisdictions everywhere. New Jersey then decided it wants nothing to do with racing, whacking it like a bit character in “The Sopranos.”
Are you beginning to see the yin and the yang of what’s been going on in 2010?

Keeneland instituted boutique night sessions at its September yearling sale that increased sizzle and commerce. By auction’s end, however, small- and medium-sized breeders were spending their days wondering why they couldn’t sell horses at a profit.

Thanks to the federal stimulus package, banks once again had plenty of money. In fact, they still do, since they’ve decided not to loan it to anyone, certainly not to anyone in the horse industry.

We had “Jockeys” on Animal Planet; “Secretariat” in movie theaters; Zenyatta on CBS; we’ve got “Luck” coming out on HBO soon, and yet we have no idea whether the Preakness or Belmont Stakes (both gr. I) will be on TV.

In fact, we have no idea where the Preakness will be run.

Young titans Kevin Plank of Under Armour, Mike Repole of VitaminWater, and chef Bobby Flay all won Breeders’ Cup races this year, heralding a new era in horse ownership. None are eligible for Social Security.

Churchill Downs decided to make a splash by entering the rock music festival business this year. Soaked, Churchill Downs decided to exit the rock music festival business this year.

Goldikova, the great French mare, became the first horse to capture three Breeders’ Cup victories and will be kept in training to go for a fourth. Rachel Alexandra, the great American filly, became the first Horse of the Year to be retired mid-season for absolutely no reason.

Innovative horsemen work for months seeking to develop a new financial model for the sport that will raise all boats. The plan is harpooned by a sea of self-interest.

It is finally over for 2010. We look forward to 2011.

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