Monday, November 8, 2010

Did Queen Z's royal treatment backfire?

I've read a lot of assessments of Zenyatta's narrow loss to Blame in Saturday's Breeder's Cup. The dirt hit her in the face and threw her off her game. She got stuck in the pack and then didn't have enough time to make her storied come-from-behind move before she hit the finish line. Blame was just a tougher, gamer horse capable of besting Queen Z while also carrying extra weight. Considering that a host of factors combine to determine the winners and losers of every horse race, all of these components likely contributed to Zenyatta's literally coming up one nose short on Saturday.

There is another explanation however, that got me thinking about whether Queen Z's kid glove training regimen prior to the Classic was the key factor that doomed her. The Science of Horse Training blog argued Saturday that Zenyatta's main handicap was the dearth of dirt track training that she underwent prior to the Classic. Today's racehorses are so finely tuned to their surfaces, that asking a synthetics runner like Zenyatta to make the switch to dirt can only be done successfully by prepping her far in advance on that surface. As the Science of Horse Training points out, perhaps that preparation was simply not done in ample enough measure to get the superhorse used to the significant differences in feel and energy use that she encountered on the Churchill Downs dirt. That Zenyatta still proved dominant over almost every single horse in the Classic field, even having barely ever galloped before over dirt, only solidifies her unequaled prowess in my mind. Unfortunately, all of her heart, might and muscle was not enough to overcome her unfamiliarity with the new surface. Certainly food for thought.

Regardless of what caused Zenyatta's defeat, the gigantic mare is unequivocally one of the greatest horses ever to have raced. We as her fans were lucky to get to thrill to her victories and watch her during her final heartrending finish. Congratulations to Queen Z and her camp, as well as Blame's owners and trainers, and all of the horses that made it to and through the grueling tests of the Breeder's Cup championships.