Zenyatta set for return to training
Monday 18 January 2010
Allowances should perhaps be made for those too elated by the return of jump racing to perceive that the weekend found its lasting significance in a fresh start of an altogether different kind. Otherwise it might become necessary to charge them with exactly the sort of blinkered attitude that has been so gloriously rejected by connections of Zenyatta.
The amazing news that one of the great mares of all time is to return to training might strictly lack topicality, halfway through our jumps season, even if her US Horse of the Year duel with Rachel Alexandra will be resolved this very day. But it should certainly remind more parochial minds that you can always prove a spirit of adventure, no matter what your geographical confines.
Even though she had hardly left her home state of California before apparently bidding farewell in November, the unbeaten Zenyatta was guaranteed an eternal reputation for adventure. And that was because Jerry Moss and John Shirreffs – her owner and trainer, with an immaculate, unprecedented career record at stake – had resolved to pitch her against all comers for her presumed swansong, in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
The breathtaking manner of her success ensured that the retirement of Sea The Stars, barely a fortnight previously, suddenly seemed premature even to some of those who had myopically dismissed the possibility of an American dimension as somehow impertinent. And that is the whole point, really. Zenyatta can hardly hope to win hearts on this side of the ocean, the way she did at home. But her very presence at the Breeders' Cup placed in due perspective the apologies for absence received from Sea The Stars and, especially, Rachel Alexandra.
Nowadays top-class Flat racing is international by definition. Sea The Stars himself ran only once on home soil last year. But it has now entered a critical new phase. The introduction of safer, synthetic surfaces to many American tracks is creating an environment where different racing cultures can become truly integrated.
Though connections of Sea The Stars and Rachel Alexandra both showed their own kind of boldness, they resisted that pioneering, 21st- century imperative. Rachel Alexandra remains the darling of the conservatives, including many powerful men with vested interests in dirt-bred stallions. And they find their best hope, on these shores, among those who persist in the misapprehension that Zenyatta, the Californian girl, is only a local phenomenon.
For whatever names become cherished over here this summer – St Nicholas Abbey perhaps – the final reckoning should only await at Churchill Downs in November.
They have kept the dirt at the home of the Kentucky Derby, of course. And to that extent Zenyatta was certainly retired with unfinished business. If Rachel Alexandra's connections can be reproached for refusing to risk her on the synthetic track at Santa Anita, then Moss and Shirreffs have come up with the perfect solution. They have already indicated that she will try fresh challenges this year, and the gratifying likelihood is that the Eclipse Awards in Florida tonight will now serve only as a prelude to a proper showdown with Rachel Alexandra.
Admittedly, her heart-stopping behaviour at Santa Anita, when she once or twice seemed on the brink of pulling herself up, suggests that Shirreffs will need to tend Zenyatta's foibles with care. But after seeing the zest of her exercise during the winter, Moss has decided to postpone the creation of a genetic legacy in favour of a less tangible one: memory. One fan told him that she had always intended to have the words "I saw Secretariat" carved on her tombstone; but that she has now decided to go with "I saw Zenyatta" instead.
In that context, a thaw sufficient to permit some pretty mediocre jump racing hardly warrants much attention – not least when the ground proved so heavy that many races ended in unedifying scenes of exhaustion.
At Fairyhouse yesterday Cousin Vinny was again beaten at odds-on, in his second novice chase, though his stable has evidently emerged from the freeze in its usual sprightly order. Willie Mullins saddled three winners in all, including Scotsirish in the Normans Grove Chase – though he will have been at least as pleased to see his other runner, Snowy Morning, renew his John Smith's Grand National credentials by keeping on for second over a distance way short of his best. Mullins also won the bumper – and admitted Up Ou That might well prove equal to the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at Cheltenham. And that, at least, is one Flat race everyone can enjoy.
Turf account: Chris McGrath
Nap Rock A Doodle Doo (3.20 Wolverhampton)
Given a break after qualifying for a low rating in three juvenile maidens, he was stepped up in trip for his handicap debut at Lingfield last week and looked unlucky.
Next best Count Boris (4.00 Fakenham)
Bumped into a well-treated horse on his debut for this stable over course and distance – one that has since completed his hat-trick off a 16lb higher mark – but his own rating remains unchanged on his return.
One to watch The two horses who pressed Excellent Show (B Smart) for the lead at Wolverhampton last week finished last and second last. She rallied to force a photo, suggesting she can improve over a sixth furlong.
Where the money's going Coral responded to the big news about Zenyatta by quoting her at 5-1 to defend the Breeders' Cup Classic – on dirt – at Louisville in November.
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