Sunday, September 28, 2008

A day at the races (or OTB)

Yesterday hosted a superstar lineup of Thoroughbred champions all across America. Of course we weren't going to miss it!

(Yes, husband is falling further in love with the Sport of Kings every week. But unlike me, he prefers to bet. I, for the most part, just like watching the parade of gorgeous horseflesh!)

There was Mauralakana, the French winner of the Beverly D. on Arlington Million Day, running in the Flower Bowl. Mauralakana's elated owner gave my farrier the jockey-helmet cuff links off his shirt after the dark bay filly flew under the finish line in front.

There was Ginger Punch, the fabulous chestnut mare, running in the Beldame Stakes.

Curlin sought to break the great Cigar's earnings record in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Then last, but not least, the undefeated Zenyatta was running in the Lady's Secret.

The results?

Mauralakana and Ginger Punch ran second in their respective races.

Curlin won the Gold Cup and became the first Thoroughbred to surpass $10 million in earnings. It was a bittersweet moment. On one hand, we saw what may be one of the truly great horses of the new century make history.

But on the other hand, Cigar, the prior record-holder, was the first great horse I watched in the 90's. Many of you, whether you are horse people or not, probably remember the big bay horse with the thick gray-tipped tail, Jerry Bailey clad in red, white, and blue silks atop his back. Few moments in racing can surpass Cigar's explosive surge of power around the turn for home in the 1995 Breeder's Cup Classic. I remember the flesh on my arms prickling, I remember my eyes stinging with tears of amazement and joy.

The great Cigar
(Kentucky Horse Park, '08)

But Curlin is an amazing horse, and if any horse were to surpass Cigar's record, he would be the right one.

And Zenyatta?

I have a soft spot in my heart for the fillies. My favorite racehorse of all time is Ruffian, and if you asked, I would admit that I think she is the greatest, period. Secretariat may have given us the 1973 Belmont Stakes but he was not without his flaws. In 1999, Man o' War was crowned the Horse of the Century by the Blood-Horse and he had many high points in his favor.

But show me another horse that has never allowed him or herself to be headed, and was in front at every pole, every call, of every race. Show me another horse that broke or equaled stakes or track records in every race but one. Show me another horse that was only shown the whip in two races--and one because the jockey just "wanted to see what she would do." (And what did she do? She won the race by 13 lengths). Show me another horse that ran times so fast, so blistering, that later, handicappers studying her times would realize that not only did she run some of the fastest times of the day, or the month, or the year, but of the past century, all with the floating ease of an earthly recinarnation of Pegasus.

Heywood Hale Brown said it best...

"With each of her tremendous gulps of ground, Ruffian seems determined to out-stride each stride just taken. And the idea of fatigue seems as alien to her as to those mythical beings who gathered strength each time they touched the Earth. So in every race, her margin suddenly and magically grows, as those behind her disappear into an awe-stricken wake, while alone and as yet unchallenged, she makes midair seem her proper home."

I have always considered Personal Ensign to be the second-greatest filly. Undefeated in 13 starts, she capped off her brilliant career with a narrow win by a nose in the 1988 Breeder's Cup Distaff. (Personal Ensign also shares a grandsire with Limerick--Damascus--which I guess makes them distant cousins of some sort! Not very relevant in the world of horses, I know, but still an interesting little fact.)


Zenyatta is quickly becoming one of the all-time top fillies, and in my heart she just may surpass Personal Ensign. Her style is to lag behind then slingshot far around the turn for home, sweep past the field and cruise to the wire as if the race was nothing more than a morning gallop, ears up, tail loose, rival horses running their hearts out in her wake. I won't say any more, lest I jinx her undefeated run (8 for 8), but I'll let you decide for yourself.

And yes, she is big and dark and breathtaking, just like Ruffian was.

Zenyatta vs. Ginger Punch
2008 Apple Blossom
Click to Watch


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