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Today's secret word is "marketing."
Every time you see that word here, shout. Maybe the pee-wee brains who run Thoroughbred horse racing will hear you and decide to market and promote the next animal even resembling a super-horse.
That's because we have a couple of ladies preparing to do great, unthought of things in the 2010 Breeders' Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs on November 5th and 6th.
And a lot of people don't even know it.
The American is Zenyatta. She's the California girl who will attempt to become the first female to win back-to-back Breeders' Cup Classics, the last one on Santa Anita's synthetic and this year's on the Twin Spires dirt.
And did I mention? She's never lost a race in her life! That's 19 races, and next week's 20th will be her last. At six, she's getting up there in the world of racing, but she's a big, tough broad who will run you down if the stretch is long enough. At Churchill Downs, it figures to be plenty long.
The Irish lass is Goldikova, a five-year-old who has dazzled on both sides of the pond. She will attempt to win her third straight Breeders' Cup Mile. No horse has ever won the same Breeders' Cup race three times running, or even different races three straight years.
Goldikova has won 11 of her last 12 races (20-14-3-2 overall!), all Group or Grade I, including the two Miles at Santa Anita. Ten of those wins, including the Prix de la Foret on October 3rd, have been against males. In 2008, Goldikova seemed doomed in traffic as late as inside the eighth pole. She geared down, found a seam, and shot through like a bullet to make it look easy for a daylight win. Last year, again facing traffic aggravations, she had to go wide and even her half-length victory looked easy. Like Walter or Michael, you watch her. Her turn of foot will take your breath away.
Many will tell you Goldikova is the best racehorse in the world right now. Difficult to argue.
But while we Americans are never really expected to keep up with the day-to-day back in the old country, there's no such excuse here in the new world. American racing, as it usually does, has pulled a Jay Cutler times-ten in throwing away opportunities to promote one of the greatest horses in generations, a horse who has already done the near-impossible: Won all of her races. And more in a row than the legendary Citation.
Yet the lords of racing now "mount" a too-little-too-late campaign to hype her for the Breeders' Cup, and sell pink and aqua merchandise, of course. Her owners, Jerry and Ann Moss, and her trainer, John Shirreffs, do not get off without a rap on the knuckles either. Through their efforts, as Zenyatta approaches one of racing's biggest stages, it's even being debated whether the 19-19-0-0 mare is really all that!
Since Rachel Alexandra put together a three-year-old filly season for the ages and won 2009 Horse of the Year honors, crushing Zenyatta in the voting, debate has absolutely raged over the merits of the two. And Zenyatta's connections have cried loud and often about the mare's inability to become all of America's heartthrob - ours and the media's fault, of course.
Quotes Eric Mitchell in his Bloodhorse.com blog: "'They had a great filly on the East Coast and a great filly on the West Coast, and they didn't celebrate both of them. Instead they pitted one against the other. I thought they made a huge mistake,' said (Shirreffs), the man who's molded the champion Zenyatta, keeping her focused and conditioned through 19 consecutive victories."
Sure, Zenyatta won the Apple Blossom twice on Oaklawn's dirt, with 2008's edition including a very nice field. And she traveled once to Churchill Down to run on Derby Day, but was scratched in sloppy conditions.
But as 2009 and 2010 wore on, what with Zenyatta winning the same races over many of the same horses on the same three Southern California tracks, it began to look a lot like her connections were simply protecting the unbeaten string instead of trying to find out just how good she really was. She wasn't even taking on the boys in Southern California - a fraternity she surely could have rushed - let alone traveling east to run against better females.
She's a huge mare who can close like a locomotive into just about any pace scenario, so why not test her? Who Beat Who is the game for handicappers, especially when the top horses rarely face each other, or a super-horse is protected in a rarefied air of warm breezes, short fields and synthetic surfaces. About Zenyatta, it will always be "Yeah, she kicked butt on those synthetics they used to have."
I'd have to bet she'll win Horse of the Year if she wins the Classic, but on the other side of the coin, if she loses with anything but a very tough beat, she very well might not win the Eclipse Award. That's a heavy change purse to be hauling around Louisville.
Like it or not, coming out east and showing off would have gotten Zenyatta a lot of attention. Oaklawn's Charles Cella tried to put together the dream race with Rachel Alexandra, but Jess Jackson and Steve Asmussen blundered mightily themselves with Rachel Alexandra. See what I'm saying?
As it was, Zenyatta was buried on sports-package cable racing channels in a time zone that was not ever going to catch up with New York or Chicago. And, as I said earlier this year, racing on mainstream television was the most limited I've seen in years. It was pretty much Triple Crown, of course, Travers, and then what appeared to be Keeneland buying its own television time - or ABC/ESPN trying to get racing back into our brains with the Breeders' Cup looming. God forbid we'd see the best turf racing of the year, Arlington Million Day.
You'll see the TV wiseguys trying to make amends for two days. It could get awkward.
But don't cry for Argentinian Sidney's Candy or John Shirreffs. Not when, through it all, American racing has seemed impotent in touting its inherent excitement, even with spectacular superstars in the gate.
The last mass excitement I remember was with Smarty Jones, the Triple Crown hopeful of 2004. Since then, the industry has failed in ways such as the early retirements of Ghostzapper, Afleet Alex and even Rachel Alexandra.
They missed the boat by not getting Curlin out front and center. Admittedly, the tragedies of Barbaro and Eight Belles hurt us all even today.
But it seems naive that there were more than a few hoping upon hope the movie Secretariat would somehow resurrect the game. The old "raise awareness" saw. Look for the Disney fantasy on DVD right after the Breeders' Cup, I predict.
And I suppose the piece on Zenyatta on this week's 60 Minutes will reach a few more people. I just hope they don't use Leslie "That's what he just said!" Stahl.
Where was everybody on June 13th when Zenyatta beat one of her toughest foes, St. Trinian's, in the Vanity Handicap, breaking Citation's record by a half-length?
Are we to feel blessed that "America's Newspaper," the hallowed New York
Times, has even crawled out of the woodwork? I guess you have to give them credit for at least admitting they're late beyond fashion.
Zenyatta's legacy will never be a sure thing, not after being safe and warm in L.A. for all those races. But the Times's Joe Drape has already made up his mind.
"Let me get a couple of things off my chest," he writes. "Whether she wins or loses the Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 6, Zenyatta is the Horse of the Year. End of story. She should have won that honor last year. Zenyatta beat one of the greatest fields - all boys - ever assembled last year in the Classic."
Feel better, Joe? Not one of the greatest fields. But call me with any questions.
See? We horseplayers think we have it all figured out. And we wish all of the rest of you could have been there to see it too.
Next week's Breeders' Cup is a program already in progress to us, but sit down and enjoy.
There's still some history to be made.
Thomas Chambers is our man on the rail. He brings you TrackNotes every Friday and welcomes your comments.More from Beachwood Sports »