Zenyatta was “the best ever, a gift from God, my everything,” professed the teary-eyed jockey Mike Smith about the mare he’d been riding. As the crowd cheered wildly, wishing Zenyatta luck while she made her final walk from the stables to the paddock, it was apparent that the crowd had feelings towards Zenyatta of comparable intensity to those of Smith. The illustrious dark brown mare brought extreme disappointment, however, to horse racing fans all over the world when she lost the Breeders’ Cup by a nose to the colt Blame.
The 2010 Breeders’ Cup, which took place at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., on Nov. 5 and 6, will be remembered by horse racing enthusiasts everywhere for Zenyatta’s historical last running. Smith was hoping Zenyatta, the oldest horse in the race and the only female, would end her career on a memorable note, extending her remarkable 19-win streak to 20 straight victories. However, when the anticipated winner lost by less than a foot to Blame, ridden by Garret Gomez, a brief silence prevailed over the 72,000 people present that day.
Victory initially looked bleak for Zenyatta. She was in dead last and over 20 yards behind other horses. But in the final moments of the race, the crowd whistled and roared as she strode effortlessly past 12 colts, earning a second place standing.
“We’re so happy with what Zenyatta has done,” said her trainer John Shirreffs. “She ran her heart out today.”
Smith agreed with Shirreffs, stating, “If you have to blame anyone today, it would be me.”
Although the Classic was undoubtedly the highlight of the Breeders’ Cup, the fight between jockeys Calvin Borel and Javier Castellano came close to stealing the scene. Castellano had been riding his horse, Prince Will I Am, rather roughly. This caused a chain reaction that adversely affected Borel and his horse, A.U. Miner. Borel, a three-time Kentucky Derby winner was infuriated with Castellano and threw punches at him after the race. Multiple security guards were called to restrain Borel.
This tiff had occurred immediately following the first race. It was a foreshadowing of the drama and excitement that would characterize this year’s Breeders’ Cup. Castellano’s horse, which had initially placed second, was eventually disqualified for her jockey’s illicit tactics. And Borel’s horse moved from fourth place to third.
When Borel was later asked about his altercation, he responded, “It’s over. It’s all good. We talked.” Both jockeys were suspended and fined for their actions.
This two-day event under the Twin Spires concluded with something else sure to make history: the first ever Breeders’ Cup race in the dark under lights.
“Night racing definitely has a completely different feel,” said student Nick Mullins about the Ladies’ Classic, “but it was a perfect way to end.”
(Published Nov. 16, 2010 in The Concord)