Brilliant Zen’s the master at long last
If it's January, it must be time to go for a gong. And never mind the Oscars, never has the result of America's thoroughbred equivalent, the Eclipse Awards, been so eagerly debated.
Yesterday in Miami came the result that had them whooping in the aisles — the people's darling Zenyatta was finally and justly granted the coveted Horse Of The Year title at the third time of asking.
The count was nearly as close, though, as her agonising yet glorious head defeat by Blame in the Breeders' Cup Classic in November, a few inches that brought her four-season winning streak to an end at 19 victories.
The mighty mare polled 128 votes to Blame's 102 to give owner Jerry Moss and trainer John Shirreffs a degree of consolation for her near-miss in achieving statistical perfection.
There is no European equivalent of the Eclipse Awards, which are given after a poll of the nation's professionals and pundits, and are more highly craved than any other.
California girl Zenyatta, at her best on synthetic surfaces, lost out last year to another female, the East Coast's Rachel Alexandra, and in 2008, with her unbeaten run then at a mere nine, she was runner-up to the colt Curlin.
Moss is no stranger to red carpets and spotlights — he is co-founder of A&M Records and named his superstar after an album by Sting, his business associate and friend.
And he sent a timely message, based on bitter experience, to the marketeers who would see the sport solely as the province of big-spending punters.
“You have to take care of the real fans,” he said. “I came from an industry that sued them when they started stealing music through Napster.
“There is sentiment in this horse business and you have to play to it — it's true in show business and it's true in horse racing,” he said.
“If you have a horse who gets people in the heart, then they want to come see them again and get to know about them. And then you have the Beatles again,” he added.
Zenyatta, now retired, is at Lane's End Farm in Kentucky awaiting a date with star stallion AP Indy.
Neither will Blame, whose connections had the satisfaction of a unanimous vote in the older male category, nor Lookin At Lucky, the first colt since Spectacular Bid 32 years ago to complete the juvenile and three-year-old Eclipse double, be seen again.
They will soon start their own breeding duties at Claiborne and Ashford respectively.
Happily, another Eclipse heroine is likely to continue to build her own legend.
French-trained Goldikova, uniquely a triple Breeders' Cup winner, polled only five votes in the three-cornered fight for the top award, but deservedly retained her female turf title by a country mile.