Thursday, April 8, 2010
If you can take the afternoon off Friday, consider it. If not, set your TIVO. Because Zenyatta is running again.
It's not the $5 million "Race for the Ages" since principal owner Jess Jackson decided not to bring Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, but the $500,000 purse in the 1-1/8 mile Apple Blossom is almost inconsequential.
Because it is a horse race, anything can happen. But safe to say, most in attendance at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas Friday will not be there to see if Zenyatta wins. They will be there to see her.
They are coming to witness her daunting presence. At 17 hands and some 1,200 pounds, she towers over most horses in racing, not the least of which are the four mares that will line up against her. They are coming to see her dance and prance from the barn to the paddock. In the paddock and around the post parade they are coming to see her strut and paw with her neck bowed as if a mountain ram ready to strike.
But most of all they are coming to see her run. They are coming to see if she can join the likes of Cigar, Citation and Mister Frisky with 16 undefeated wins. They want to see that late furious rally that patently makes one doubt she can win from so far back, so late in the race.
Oaklawn Park president Charles Cella told Daily Racing Form that they are planning for 30,000 fans on Friday and 50,000 the next day for the Arkansas Derby. That would make it perhaps the third largest Friday-Saturday crowd of year behind Oaks and Derby days at Churchill Downs and the Friday-Saturday Breeders' Cup, also at Churchill in 2010.
Coming to the party in the role of the spoilers will be grade 3 stakes winners Be Fair, War Echo, and Just Jenda plus Taptam, an ungraded stakes winner. The morning line has Just Jenda as the 3-1 second choice behind Zenyatta at 3-5 which will be about as accurate as a wiffle ball in a windstorm. Zenyatta should be closer to 1-5 if not 1-9. The closest any second choice will come is 8-1.
Even Just Jenda's trainer Cindy Jones, concedes reality and is hoping for second. Steve Asmussen trains War Echo and will try to turn the tables on Zenyatta's trainer John Shirreffs. Shirreffs brought Zardana to New Orleans to defeat Rachel Alexandra in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes when Rachel was 1-9. But even Asmussen must think an upset improbable.
“She’s totally different from any other horse I’ve had,” Shirreffs said. “She’s sharp and fit and ready to run, yet so relaxed. There was a little girl, about 11, at the barn recently and she had her little Breyer horse with her and was standing with Zenyatta. Before you know it, she (Zenyatta) turned around and had her backside next to this little girl. She just reached up and patted her on her butt. It was no big deal.”
The big deal will again be on the track. And you won't want to miss it.