Fantastic Sports Writing: Zenyatta’s Last Race

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Fantastic writing in of all places, the NYT sports section, on last night’s Breeder Cup race. I don’t follow horse racing, don’t really read the sports pages. But this telling of last night’s race is simply breathless:

“Her owners, Jerry and Ann Moss; her trainer, John Shirreffs; and for that matter anyone who had watched and loved the great racemare Zenyatta knew that the real running — the edge-of-the-seat-drama — really didn’t start until she turned for home. Nineteen times before, Zenyatta had looked desperate and in trouble at the top of the stretch. Nineteen times before, she had found a gear to rocket past her rivals in the final strides.

So when jockey Mike Smith cornered the big girl and squared her shoulders toward the finish line in dead last, the more than 72,000 people here at Churchill Downs rose to their feet and held their breath. Zenyatta not only had 11 horses to pass, she also had a dozen or so lengths to make up.

This time, however, Zenyatta was in a different kind of trouble. This was the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, with a field full of thoroughbred racing’s royalty. They were boys. She was the only girl in the bunch, and at age 6 the oldest of the lot.

Zenyatta had started sluggishly, too. Sure, she always spotted fields some daylight, but Smith was worried before they hit the first turn. Her stride was uneven and looked like a rocking horse’s, with a wobbly glider. Dirt was hitting her face for the first time — Zenyatta had run 17 of her previous races on smoother synthetic surfaces.

Somehow, Smith settled her, and Zenyatta picked up some steam rounding the far turn. But now Smith was stuck inside, a wall of horses ahead of him.

He angled her left, one path, two paths, three paths, and it was not pretty. Zenyatta’s strength is power, not agility, and she looked like a bull trying to fight her way out of a ring.

“I needed to cut some corners somewhere,” Smith said.

When he finally got her outside and clear, Zenyatta charged. She shot by Musket Man and Paddy O’Prado and absolutely gassed the Preakness champion, Lookin at Lucky.

There was only one colt left, and he was a good one. Blame had won 8 of 12 in his lifetime, and 5 of his last 6. His rider, Garrett Gomez, had threaded Blame between two rivals and still had seven lengths on Zenyatta with the wire getting closer.

“At the eighth pole, I thought I was going to get there pretty easy,” Gomez confessed. But then he peeked beneath his arm and saw Smith and Zenyatta getting bigger and bigger.

“I knew she’d be coming,” Gomez said. “She’s the best I’ve ever seen.”

Smith was fanning Zenyatta, a mare he loved, with his left hand. She dug in, and Blame’s lead grew smaller with every stride. With 20 yards to go, Zenyatta was at Blame’s tail. Then hip. Then neck. There was a roar, the flash of a finish-line photo, and then silence.”

Just fantastic . . .

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Source:
Zenyatta Misses History by a Head
JOE DRAPE
NYT, November 6, 2010
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/07/sports/07breeders.html

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