1. She's Still Sound
One of the most common reasons that thoroughbreds retire is simply that they get hurt, and recuperation time is either too lengthy or too likely to decrease their level of skill that a decision is made to enter the world of breeding instead of trying to bring the horse back to the races. Thankfully, Zenyatta has navigated a 14 race career and has seemingly not yet been bitten by the injury bug. In fact, she's so sound that her connections are even willing to stretch her legs on the track in retirement, and one could surmise that if there was any concern regarding her condition, she wouldn't have worked three times since the Breeders' Cup.
2. She's Still Atop Her Game
Another common reason that horses are retired is that they lose their form. Just like human athletes, equine athletes are prone to losing a step or two as they age, and sometimes they even lose the interest in doing their 'job' (but more on that a little later). Zenyatta, who turned six as the ball dropped in New York City (she actually wont turn 6 until April), may very well be in the best form of her lifetime. Her Breeders' Cup Classic score was both the deepest field that she beat, but also the most strenuous race that she'd ever encountered, and also marked a new career best Beyer Speed Figure (112) for the mare. If her career was anything but still on an upswing, she wouldn't have done as well as she did that day. Heck, rider Mike Smith believes she still has more in reserve than she showed that day. Yes, Zenyatta is 6, and 6 is an age where thoroughbreds often begin to show signs of slowing down, but that's far from a fact in the game. We've seen more than a few 9 and 10 year olds win upper echelon Grade 1 races to say that aging is anything more than an individual trait that will catch up to some thoroughbreds quicker than it will catch up to others. It should be noted that Zenyatta has only run 14 times in her career, hardly a large number, and it's entirely conceivable that her best days are still ahead of her.
3. She Has No Financial Value Doing Anything Else
As much as we hate to admit it, money plays a bigger role in these decisions than we want to concede. And it makes sense - when you can send a mare like 2002 Horse of the Year, Azeri, to an auction and have the bidding reach several million dollars, you're making what seems to be a sound financial decision in retiring. Or when you can sell the foals of that mare individually for millions of dollars each, you look to have made the right call by sending her to be bred. But, when the majority of your racing plan revolves around a breed-to-race mentality, where you have no real intention of selling the mare or her foals, her value is minimized off the track. As soon as she no longer is capable of yielding dividends on the racetrack, there really isn't any way for her to make money for her owners. Now granted, the Mosses appear to be very financially well off, and they certainly will survive without the couple of million dollars one would figure Zenyatta to earn for them in 2010. They didn't get to where they are by making poor financial decisions, though. Zenyatta earned over $3.3M in an abbreviated 5-race 2009 campaign, and you'd have to think that nobody, not even somebody as rich as the Mosses, would want to give that up.
4. She Can Solidify Her Place In History
If Zenyatta is indeed retired, she'll retire as one of the best female horses of all-time, and in and of itself, that's one hell of an accomplishment. To be mentioned alongside names like Ruffian, Personal Ensign, Go for Wand, Lady's Secret, Azeri, Rachel Alexandra, Winning Colors, etc. is a testament to the talent, tenacity, and consistency Zenyatta brought to the track every time she went postward. However, how special would it be if Zenyatta were remembered as better than that lot? A 2010 campaign could accomplish that. With current earnings of $5,474,580, another strong season could supplant Curlin as the all-time North American leading money earner. With a current undefeated 14-for-14 record, she could definitely bypass Pepper's Pride's 19-for-19 record as the winningest contemporary North American thoroughbred without a loss. Those are two extremely prestigious tangible records that Zenyatta could hold if she returned in 2010, as well as all of the intangibles (best female horse ever?), and I wouldn't bet against Zenyatta achieving all of that. You've got something so close to the cusp of true greatness, so it almost seems odd to shy away from it now. She was campaigned in a way that made it extremely clear that preserving her record mattered to the connections, and it worked. She still brings an unblemished resume to the table each and every time I look at her past performances, but at this point, why not work on making her resume just a bit stronger?
5. Breed to Race Rarely Works
One belief is that the Mosses want to retire Zenyatta because they can't wait to race her offspring. And while it would be breathtaking to see a son of Zenyatta win the Kentucky Derby, or a daughter of hers become a champion, it's not exactly likely. At all. The notion that the best horses conceive the best horses makes perfect sense in theory, but somewhere along the way, luck plays a huge role in the process. By all intents and purposes, Zenyatta herself is an example of this. Not overly-regally bred, Zenyatta sold for $60,000 at auction as a yearling, and nobody would have ever guessed that she'd become the mare that she is today. Breeding is a cruel, cruel game, and just because you're a superstar female horse, it doesn't mean you're going to get any breaks in the breeding shed. Just take a look at these recent examples -
- Bird Town, winner of the 2003 Kentucky Oaks and Champion 3yo Filly that year, was first bred in 2004. She's yet to have an offspring record a workout, let alone race.
- Winning Colors, winner of the 1988 Kentucky Derby and Champion 3yo Filly that year failed to produce a graded stakes winner amongst her progeny.
- Champion Older Female in 1998, Escena, has yet to have a any of her progeny even compete in a stakes race.
- The amazing Personal Ensign, one of the best female horses of all time (if not the best), produced just one millionaire, that being My Flag.
- Lady's Secret, an 11-time Grade 1 winner, no foals who were notable on the racetrack.
6. She Loves her Job
I feel like I've saved the best for last, but Zenyatta LOVES her job. She loves going out to the track, she loves working out once a week, and she loves trouncing the competition whenever he schedule allows for it. SO my question is...why rush to take that away from her? This is a mare that was so miserable just standing in her stall that her connections had to start working her out again, just to calm her down a bit. Being a racehorse is all she knows, but most importantly, its something that she wants to do. Some horses tend to lose interest and stop trying as they get older. That's not the case with Zenyatta. Zenyatta is the exact opposite. If you loved your job, and wanted to do it every chance you got (seems way too utopian, huh?), would you want that to be taken from you? Because that's what seems to be happening to Zenyatta. She's telling the people that work with her on a daily basis that she wants to go out and race, and instead she's going to go be a pasture ornament somewhere in Kentucky. Surely she'll adapt in time, but again, what's the rush? People say she deserves her retirement, and sure she does. She's accomplished more than just about any other thoroughbred in the history of racing in North America. But at the same time, why not at least try and give the athlete a say? If she wants to run, and again, all parties involved with her have seemingly conceded that she does, why not give her the opportunity?
7. Because Horse Racing Needs The Help
No, it's not the Mosses responsibility to 'save' horse racing, and no, Zenyatta coming back in 2010 wouldn't be anything more than putting a bandaid on a gunshot wound, but it would help. For whatever reason, the national media didn't latch onto the Zenyatta story until the Classic. One could say that's their loss, and it is, but it's also horse racing's loss if the attention that would be given to her goes wasted. Horse racing doesn't receive much attention at all, but when a horse does something to deserve attention, outlets like ESPN and others do give them their due. We saw this with Big Brown, Smarty Jones, Funny Cide, and even Curlin to a degree, and we're seeing it now with Rachel Alexandra. And if she returned in 2010, we'd see it with Zenyatta. Televised races, mentions on SportsCenter/other news shows, regular online updates on websites not dedicated to thoroughbred racing...it couldn't hurt at all. And as much of a pipe dream it is, a Zenyatta/Rachel Alexandra showdown would be huge for horse racing. I won't go and compare it to races won decades ago, but it wouldn't shock me if ratings and attendance for that race, depending on the venue, matched some of the best figures that we've seen in recent history. I won't say racing needs that race to happen, but it'd be better off if it did. Like I said, the Mosses owe us or the sport absolutely nothing. These sporting owners were one of only two in the last decade to bring a non-gelding Kentucky Derby winner back to race as an older horse, and they also campaigned Tiago through his five-year-old campaign, and ran Zenyatta in the Classic when they could have played it easy and gone for the Ladies' Classic.
As I conceded earlier, Zenyatta won't be back in 2010. Well I shouldn't speak in such absolutes, but it'd completely shock me if we saw her in the starting gate ever again. With that said, I will say that there are a lot of reasons that Zenyatta should return in 2010.
Dare to dream, I guess.