She's not just out to win the Breeders Cup Classic on Saturday. She's not just out to prove she's faster than the fastest colts in the world. She's making a grandstand play to capture the title of Horse of the Year. And she's going to do it by racing against the ghost of her biggest competition...who's not even in the race.
The stars are lined up for a great moment in Thoroughbred racing at California's Santa Anita racetrack. It's time for the 2009 Breeders Cup, the World Series, Superbowl, and Indy500 of American horse racing, spread across two days, two racing surfaces, two television networks and the fates of some super horses.
Undefeated Zenyatta declared today that she will bypass a chance for a repeat win of the Fillies and Mares Classic and go after the colts in the high-stakes mile-and-a-quarter Breeders Cup Classic. That means facing Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, who will come from behind with her, no doubt, and Belmont/Travers/Jockey Gold Cup winner Summer Bird, along with Rip Van Winkle, one of the best in Europe, and long-striding speedster Quality Road...among others.
This will mean two firsts for the big black supermare: first time against colts and first time going a mile and one quarter. And yet, she's the favorite with oddsmakers.
Most of those American colts have already been beaten by the red-hot three-year-old filly on the east coast, Rachel Alexandra. But her owners are bypassing the Breeders Cup, partly to give her a rest and partly out of distaste for the artificial surface--which is about all Zenyatta has ever run on. And never lost.
If Zenyatta loses, surely Horse of the Year remains Rachel Alexandra's. But if Zenyatta wins?
Some people like Coke. Some like Pepsi. Some people work on a PC. Some love their Macs. The Internet is clogged with fans of each horse declaring supremacy.
I'm just savoring them both, and the moment. This is as good as it gets. And she may be as good as they come. We'll soon find out.
Note: The Breeders Cup will be on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC at different times on Friday and Saturday. Approximate post time for the Classic on Saturday is 6:45 p.m. EST. Check your local listings to be sure. I believe that you can sign up at ESPN360.com and watch it streaming on the web, as well. At least that's what I'm hoping!
Thanks to Sarah K. Andrew of Rock and Racehorses--who is at the Breeders Cup!--for this photo of Zenyatta as she prepped for the Breeders Cup last year.