I have always subscribed to the idea that actions speak louder than words. So when a Breeders’ Cup Classic winner works 4 furlongs in :48 flat 2 months after winning the Classic – their 3rd workout in a month – logic tells me that the horse is still in training.
I have absolutely no inside information here but “retired” horses simply don’t post formal workouts every couple of weeks after they’ve retired. I don’t care whether they’re full of energy, taking the edge off, or sneaking out of the barn late at night while their caretakers aren’t looking…it’s not logical and it doesn’t happen. There are injury risks as well as the fact that horses in the process of being “let down” don’t work progressively faster.
The speculation could be put to rest very easily. All the Moss’s have to do is say “Zenyatta is officially retired.” They haven’t done so. Even today, John Shirreffs said everything BUT those magic words. He said the owner’s haven’t deviated from their plan. He said she’s accomplished enough. He said he hasn’t been told anything new. But he never said “She’s officially retired” and he never explained why she’s working out the way she is. Hmmm…
Does this mean she’ll run again? Definitely not. So what’s really going on? Well here’s my theory:
1. They’re keeping their options open. She still wants to run, the Moss’s don’t want to let go, there are still nagging questions about dirt, about her being handled conservatively, about beating Rachel Alexandra, about her reputation catching up with what they perceive her ability to be – so they’re leaving the door open while they continue to ponder.
2. They’re waiting to see what happens with Horse of the Year. If she wins, then they can retire happy. If she loses, then maybe they take their shot against Rachel or keep her in training for another campaign to try to win the title.
3. There are offers on the table for a race against Rachel Alexandra that are too intriguing and too rich to pass out – so again, they’re keeping their options open while they keep listening. Rachel figures to return in March. With this light training schedule she could easily be ready for a prep race in March and then hook up in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn (a track that Zenyatta has already won at) in a showdown for the ages.
Here’s what I think happened. When Rachel was dominating last year and Zenyatta was barely nosing out second-tier horses while posting Beyer figures of under 100 there was some question about if she was tailing off. If she was as good as last year. I’m sure that there was a small measure of doubt at that point about whether she was good enough to beat Rachel at that point. But her Breeders’ Cup Classic tour-de-force combined with the way she came out of it gave them a confidence spike that she could indeed beat Rachel or anyone else for that matter. It’s no secret that Zenyatta still has the reputation of a horse who was too conservatively handled, a horse who stayed in her comfort zone for too long, and a horse who never really got the chance to show what she can do. Her connections feel she’s better than that and given the shape she’s in, they likely feel confident that a few more races could serve to answer all questions, put any doubts to rest, and allow her reputation to catch up with her ability.
Should Zenyatta beat Rachel Alexandra in a dirt race outside California she would unequivocally be considered the greatest female racehorse in American history and one of the best horses overall to ever race. That’s got to be tempting – especially as the Moss’s read article after article about how Rachel had the better season and traveled more and accomplished more and Zenyatta was just a synthetic track specialist whose reputation is built around a single big win over a questionable surface in an otherwise “safe” season.
With a couple of races standing between Zenyatta and true immortality – and confidence no doubt running high in her camp – clearly her connections aren’t ready to slam the door shut just yet.
Zenyatta vs Rachel Alexandra – let’s hope…
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