Sport Horse Racing

Saturday 17 March 2018

Smith takes blame for Zenyatta agony

Marcus Armytage

The 27th Breeders' Cup proved to be the tale of two mares, unquestionably the best of their sex either side of the Atlantic for 20 years, but while Goldikova delivered an unprecedented trilogy of Breeders' Cup Miles, there was no fairytale finish for racing's own Hollywood A-lister, Zenyatta.

In terms of endings it was less Disney, more disaster movie as, in one of the most dramatic races you will see, Zenyatta, at one stage more than 20 lengths off the pace, failed by a head in her quest for perfection; 20 wins from 20 starts. Instead Blame took the Classic and Zenyatta's jockey, Mike Smith, tearfully took the blame.

However determined one is to merely observe and not get hooked up in the Zenyatta circus, by OTT Productions Inc, the alluring tunes played on her flute are impossible to resist. I rode a few good horses and I've seen a few good horses, but I have never seen one quite like Zenyatta.

Horses 'prance' only in children's story books and yet here she was prancing and goose-stepping as she was cheered all the way from her backstretch stable to the paddock.

Mostly calm, her trademark goose-step was at times more aggressive, occasionally she thumped one of her front legs out and pawed the ground, agitated and impatient as the police tried to hush her fans and quell the shouts of 'Go Zenyatta'.

In a race, the Zenyatta way is to come from behind. When the stalls opened on Saturday, the commentator's first pronouncement "Zenyatta's dead last" was greeted with an ironic laugh from the crowd because that's what Zenyatta does.

But soon, eight lengths adrift of the second-last, it was apparent that she was ad-libbing and ignoring the script. Louisville is the birthplace of Muhammad Ali and this was rope-a-dope gone too far.

Gradually, down the back stretch her interest picked up, her giant stride ate into the deficit and going into the home bend she had come full on the bridle with Smith looking for the best angle of attack.

A furlong out she still had four lengths to find, but then she hit top gear roared on even by those who had backed Blame.

Sadly, her gaining appearance on the colt's shoulder spurred him on for one last desperate lunge for the line to become, poor horse, the least popular winner of a horse race in 50 years. In defeat Zenyatta lost nothing and yet everything.

Smith came to the press conference, spoke eloquently and then the enormity of it all hit him and he burst into tears.

"I believe she was up there with the greatest of all time," he said. "If I'd won this you could arguably say she was the greatest. To come up a nose short is just too awful.

"She just didn't level out like I wanted her to. I just left her too much to do. I truly believe I was on the best horse today and if I had to blame anyone, it's me."

Even the winning jockey Garrett Gomez had mixed emotions about his greatest win. "She's been nothing but wonderful for racing. I'm glad I won, but I wish it had been at a different horse's expense."

Occasional defeats have not blemished the stunning career of Goldikova, which must now share some of Zenyatta's limelight. Even more comfortable with American racing than European, her third Mile victory was her easiest under Olivier Peslier and while she may not have Zenyatta's presence, she sure doesn't make life so difficult for herself.

Brian Meehan ensured the French were not the only jubilant party on the plane home when, in the absence of Workforce, Dangerous Midge won the Turf impressively to provide more glory for Frankie Dettori.

While they head home, the quest for perfection must start all over again in America. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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