Lexington, Kentucky, was once again home to the Churchill Downs Breeders’ Cup … but the event this year was anything but ordinary. The thoroughbred racehorse reigning favorite was six-year-old Zenyatta, who won last year’s Breeders’ Cup. A dark, beautiful mare with a nineteen-win track record, Zenyatta was the favorite to win the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 6, but fate had another winner in mind.
Zenyatta lost the race in a dramatic finish, with thoroughbred Blame edging her out by a head. This stunning upset marked the end of the mare’s reign as “the absolute mistress when it comes to a dramatic finish,” according to Mike Smith, Zenyatta’s jockey. “She’s known for being slow out of the gate, then whipping around that final corner, and passing the rest of her competitors on her way to yet another win.”
That’s exactly what happened at this year’s Breeders’ Cup race. Zenyatta got away slow from the starting gate. At the back of the pack, Smith cajoled Zenyatta to close the gap, but it wasn’t easy. She was assailed with clods of dirt, something that doesn’t happen on the synthetic track—which is more familiar to her in her native California. When Zenyatta finally kicked into gear, watching her close the distance was a remarkable thing to behold.
As she started her rally for home, she dropped down with three furlongs to go on the inside rail, with Blame on her outside. Jockey Smith angled her to the outside for a clear shot, and the crowd of over 72,000 exploded.
I don’t think I’d realized just how much I wanted this majestic 1,200-pound powerhouse to win. I was convinced that this was going to be the classic come from behind to win moment of the race, as I watched this mare racing with all her heart. I’ll admit, a little part of my heart was broken when seconds later, Blame crossed the finish line, beating Zenyatta by mere inches. It was her first defeat. Jockey Mike Smith wept. Owners Ann and Jerry Moss were stunned. Ann Moss later remarked that she was hoping her horse had “stuck her tongue out” at the finish.
But Zenyatta, even in defeat, was still the sentimental favorite. She was still a thoroughbred racehorse star. Her personality was evident from the way she high-stepped her way to the paddock. The crowd roared their approval. She may not have won the race, but she won the hearts of many.
The winners of The Breeders’ Cup were presented with a stunning world champion trophy by Steuben, with a solid glass crystal thoroughbred in a majestic canter pose—reflecting all the time honored tradition, and gracefulness of this classic sporting event.
Zenyatta’s reign may have come to an official close, but her personality, spunk, and style will act as a standard for all future champions to be judged. This beautiful mare will not soon be forgotten, even if she is not a horse encased in crystal, or the Breeders’ Cup champion.