Zenyatta: The Happy Dance of a Champion is Now a Work of Art

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Today was a great day for equine art. But it wasn't a museum in Paris or a gallery in New York or even a historic painting offered by Sotheby's. It happened under the palm trees at California's Santa Anita Park.

And as soon as everyone saw it, they knew who it was. And a lot of great memories came flooding back.

Santa Anita has other statues. There's Seabiscuit over there. And John Henry over there.

And now Zenyatta is here.

You might expect a statue of the great race mare to be charging for the wire. But this is a more personal piece of art, and one that everyone recognizes right away.

It's not like the Los Angeles area isn't accustomed to her image.

It's not like the Los Angeles area isn't accustomed to her image.

Zenyatta was famous for coming from the back of the pack and winning in the final strides of the race. But she was also famous for her dances. In the saddling stalls, in the walking ring, and all through the post parade, she pranced and strutted and kicked her legs out as if she was auditioning for the Olympic dressage team.

Experts said she was limbering up. Self-stretching. Others said she was expressing her love for the race. Another theory was that she was sharpening her competitive edge. But the crowds loved it, and they never forgot.

When it came time to choose the pose for the statue that Santa Anita wanted, they knew it had to be a pose that racegoers would immediately recognize. And that the statue should be bigger than Seabiscuit or John Henry, because Zenyatta was larger than life, the first non-human featured on Sixty Minutes.

So today was the day. The beloved equine equivalent of a California girl, winner of the 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita and Horse of the Year in 2010, was honored for all time as her statue was unveiled in Santa Anita's Paddock Gardens at noon. The event was livestreamed on the web, of course.

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Zenyatta, in real life, is close to the color of mahogany. But now we know she has a bronze side.

Sculpted by San Diego's Nina Kaiser, who also created Santa Anita's statue of John Henry, Zenyatta's likeness stands at her real-life height of 17.2 hands, and weighs 1,200 pounds, which is approximately what Zenyatta weighed throughout her racing career. Commissioned by Santa Anita, the world-renowned artist worked on the project for more than two years.

Kaiser went out of her way to create Zenyatta's likeness, right now to measuring every angle of her body.

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Zenyatta wasn't there for the unveiling; she's eight now, and she is preoccupied with other things to do at her new home, Lane's End Farm in Versailles, Kentucky. She's hard at work raising her first son, an as-yet-unnamed colt by Bernardini. He looks quite a bit like her.

The colt's birth last winter was a media event and cause for celebration across the racing world.

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Santa Anita also honored Zenyatta today with the inaugural Grade I, $250,000 Zenyatta Stakes (formerly the Lady's Secret), a race won by Zenyatta over three consecutive years from 2008 through 2010.

As someone quipped on Twitter before the race, "I don't know who you bet on, but my money's on that statue to come flying at the finish."

The Breeders Cup returns to Santa Anita this year. The year's biggest two days of racing will be run over the new dirt surface. Zenyatta might not be there but no one has forgotten her.

A new group of crowd-pleasing fillies and mares, led by Royal Delta, will be running for glory in November but they'll all be running in Zenyatta's shadow.

That's the shadow of greatness, and it's doing a happy dance. So should they.

To learn more:

Video: Zenyatta's Celebrity Admirers Will Be Watching on Zaturday

Video: Zenyatta on 60 Minutes and New Breeders Cup "Wave Your Flag" Music Video

O Loves Z: Thoroughbred Racing Champion Zenyatta Named to Oprah Winfrey's List of Women Who Claim Their Power (But How Many of Them Do the Head Bob Thing and Wiggle Their Big Floppy Ears?)

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