Zenyatta, the undefeated 6-year-old mare who's getting the sort of soft-focus-and-tinkly-piano treatment we generally reserve for plucky little Olympic gymnasts and Bob Costas, is an 8-to-5 favorite in tomorrow's Breeders' Cup Classic, horse racing's true signature event. Bet against.
First, a quick survey of the things people have been saying about her: 60 Minutes called her "the most splendid creature we've ever seen," and her jockey suggested she "could go down as the greatest horse of all time," which probably had Secretariat doing six furlongs in his grave. The New York Times called her "the perfect horse," and simultaneously likened her to both Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor (with whom she at least shares a taste in tiny men and diuretics). Sports Illustrated's Tim Layden wrote that her "greatness fairly bursts from the skin beneath her coat," which is probably just the eczema. Maybe most absurdly, Zenyatta made Oprah's O Magazine power list, which honors women who "are changing the world for the better."
Zenyatta is certainly a phenomenon — 19-0 is an incredible feat in a sport as unpredictable as horse racing — but as a horse who has spent the balance of her career running on speed-averse synthetic tracks in California against the horsey equivalent of the Washington Generals, she is also as pure a product of racing's Polytrack era as there is. Which is to say that this year's Horse Who Will Save The Sport™ has become a star thanks to the very surface that, as Andrew Beyer argues, has just about killed it. (If it hasn't killed it, at the very least Polytrack has split the sport in two. Beyer notes that horses going from dirt to synthetics in the Santa Anita Breeders' Cups have gone 0-43. The difference between racing on synthetic tracks and dirt tracks is roughly the difference between NASCAR and open wheel.)
Now Zenyatta moves to the dirt at Churchill Downs, overhyped and overbet and trailed by bad country music. I like Blame to win (at 9-to-2), and Elizabeth Taylor to finish out of the money, and I'll bet on everyone immediately forgetting about her the way everyone immediately forgot about Big Brown and Smarty Jones and all those other horses for whom all those pianos used to tinkle.
At Breeders' Cup, Zenyatta needs to show she can deliver on dirt [Washington Post]
Zenyatta's fast, but doesn't belong in racing's pantheon [Washington Post]
Zenyatta must earn title on the track [DRF]