I'm feeling pretty optimistic about horse racing in 2010. With Quality Road's victory in the Hal's Hope Stakes at Gulfstream Park in the books, I'm hoping that will be the first in a long line of returning 2009 stars making their successful new year debuts.
So the new decade has started well for horse racing. But will the momentum continue? Which takes us right into my top questions as we head into 2010.
Question #1. Is Zenyatta retired?
As Steve Haskin said during his recent installment of And They're Off on BloodHorse.com, owner Jerry Moss indicated after the Breeders' Cup that she was retired. But the now 6-year-old mare continues to remain in training at Hollywood Park and certainly there has been no announcement regarding her plans for the breeding shed.
Which brings us to Question #2. If Zenyatta is retired, to what sire will owners Jerry and Ann Moss breed her?
If Zenyatta were mine and money was no object, she would be on her way to Ashford Stud in Kentucky and romance with Giant's Causeway.
One doesn't have to be a bloodstock agent to see how well this mating would fit - at least on paper. Giant's Causeway was the leading sire in North America in 2009 with $11,079,918 in progeny earnings and his $100,000 stud fee is just about the standard by which to measure stallions worthy of Zenyatta.
Giant's Causeway earned more than $3 million on the track and was the Champion 3-Year-Old Colt in England and Europe before finishing second to Tiznow in the Breeders' Cup Classic. He produces winners and stakes winners on dirt, turf and synthetics and more than 500 of his weanlings and yearlings have averaged nearly $300,000 at public auctions over the last four years if the goal is to put the foal on the market.
Despite his name, Giant's Causeway has moderate size at 16.1 hands which is desirable for a mare as large as Zenyatta. We're not trying to produce a Clydsdale here. His all-time leading money earner is multiple English and European Champion Shamardal, whose dam sire is Machiavellian, the paternal grandsire of Zenyatta through Street Cry. Machiavellian is by Mr. Prospector, whose blood runs through many of Giant Causeway's most successful get including Italian Champion Primary, multiple grade 1 winning turf specialist Aragorn, and Giant's 2009 leading money earner Swift Temper.
Not to sound too technical, but according to eNicks.com the Zenyatta-Giant's Causeway paring gets an A++ Werk Nick rating and would produce a foal with a dosage index of 1.80 with a center of distribution of 0.50. In other words, the colt or filly would be able to run all day and then some.
But apparently, I might be getting ahead of myself on the whole retirement issue. If Zenyatta continues to train and breeding plans aren't made sometime in the near future, I for one will start feeding the fires of the Rachel Alexandra meeting.
Would the real Mine That Bird, please stand up?
Host: Contestant number one, please state your name and what you do.
C#1: My name is Mine That Bird and I won the Kentucky Derby and finished second in the Preakness and third in the Belmont.
Host: Contestant number two, please state your name and what you do.
C#2: My name is Mine That Bird and I couldn't outrun a fat man in boots in West Virginia or California.
Host: Contestant number three, please state your name and what you do.
C#3: My name is Mine That Bird but I can't prove it because Chip lost my papers in Baltimore.
Will Lookin' at Lucky win the Kentucky Derby?
The odds, probabilities and history say no. Lookin at Lucky's only loss came while finishing second to Vale of York in a less that comfortable trip in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, but came back to impressively win the CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park in December. Following the Futurity, Baffert indicated that Lookin' at Lucky would probably prepare for the Derby with just two races and both would be outside of California. This would be a much different strategy than what Baffert has employed with Kentucky Derby winners Silver Charm and Real Quiet (War Emblem came to the Baffert barn just before the Derby) or any of his other Derby stars such as Point Given or Pioneerof the Nile.
Not many January Kentucky Derby favorites are in the winner's circle on the first Saturday in May either. Although the decade of the "oughts" produced post time favorite winners Fusaichi Pegasus (2000), Smarty Jones (2004), Street Sense (2007) and Big Brown (2008), one has to go back to Spectacular Bid in 1979 to find a winning Derby favorite in the previous century.
But for now, Lookin at Lucky looks to have all the parts to be a serious contender in the run for the roses.
Will the Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta popularity carryover into racing generally in 2010?
That all depends on Rachel herself and the Triple Crown. One has to think that those two great mares created some new fans and reinvigorated marginal ones at tracks from California to New York. Any campaign by Rachel resembling 2009 and general sports fans and the media will begin to take further notice.
The Triple Crown stands alone in it's appeal and popularity among "non" racing sports fans and a strong performance by any horse in the Triple Crown will only further solidify the sport's fan base.