Zenyatta still the queen after loss in BC Classic

If Zenyatta was disappointed, she sure didn’t show it.

Barely a dozen hours after her 19-race winning streak was

snapped when Blame held her off by a head in the $5 million

Breeders’ Cup Classic, racing’s reigning queen stood near the fence

outside her barn at Churchill Downs and held court – the way she

always does.

There were pictures and poses. Signs and smiles.

A young girl in a pink jacket giggled nervously when the massive

6-year-old mare gently nuzzled her as fans pulled out cameras and

cell phones to capture the moment.

Not a bad way to start retirement, right?

And though owners Jerry and Ann Moss haven’t made any official

announcements, there was a sense of finality as trainer John

Shirreffs tried to put Zenyatta’s unparalleled career in

perspective.

”It was a fairy tale and it didn’t end the way everybody wanted

it to end,” Shirreffs said Sunday. ”That’s what I feel badly

about. However, Zenyatta is pretty happy out there and she will be

happy.”

Zenyatta’s quest to win the Classic for a second straight year

and finish a perfect 20-0 by beating the boys once again provided

the kind of buzz the sport has long coveted.

More than 70,000 shivered in the fall chill at Churchill Downs

hoping to see history. Millions more watched on television,

wondering if the horse who’s been profiled everywhere from ”60

Minutes” to ”O Magazine” could put together one more dazzling

stretch drive.

Zenyatta delivered, only this time it wasn’t enough to get to

the winner’s circle. Shirreffs maintains she wasn’t bothered by the

dirt, the pace or the pressure.

She ran a great race, Shirreffs said. There’s no reason to

apologize, even though jockey Mike Smith did so profusely

afterward, saying it was his fault for giving her too much work to

do after she lagged behind the pace early.

”I was worried he wasn’t going to be able to carry his saddle

back to the jockey’s room,” Shirreffs said.

While Smith brooded, Shirreffs went out to dinner at a small

Italian restaurant. By Sunday morning, he was ready to move on.

”As a trainer, you have to let go,” he said. ”It’s just a

feeling of disappointment, but you get over that and then you

remember all the fun times.”

And there were plenty of them. The challenge for the sport now

is finding a way to build on it.

Zenyatta’s crossover appeal created new fans. Keeping them could

be difficult. Zenyatta was on a plane back to California on Sunday

night, her career likely over.

Blame, who went from a relative unknown to giant slayer and

possible Horse of the Year in the 2:02.60 it took him to win the

Classic, will be at Claiborne Farm in central Kentucky by the end

of the week to prepare for a stallion career.

Shirreffs understands the struggle of keeping casual fans

interested when the careers of the top horses can last only a year

or two before they’re shipped off to the more lucrative breeding

shed.

It’s part of what made Zenyatta’s appeal so unique. A late

bloomer, she raced over the course of four years, building her

legend one mad dash to the finish at a time.

And she did it with style and grace. The scene outside the barn

on Sunday morning isn’t unusual for her. She loves the attention,

and people seem to love her.

It’s a lesson Shirreffs believes the sport could learn from as

it tries to replenish its roster of stars.

”I think the big thing the sport needs to do is let the fans

get a little bit closer to the horses,” Shirreffs said. ”As a

trainer, I’d like people to come up and see them, see them up close

and get a feel for them instead of just seeing it in a

picture.”

There are other stars on the horizon. Uncle Mo was spectacular

while dominating the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Saturday, and

trainer Todd Pletcher is putting together a battle plan that he

hopes will bring his 2-year-old back to Churchill Downs for the

Kentucky Derby next May.

Uncle Mo is unbeaten and unchallenged in three starts.

Impressive, but still very modest when compared to Zenyatta’s

remarkable run of 19 straight wins.

Trainer Nick Zito said even in defeat Zenyatta showed ”she

could be the greatest filly of all-time.”

Blame’s trainer Albert Stall Jr. called her ”the best racemare

there’s ever been in the game.”

Whether she’s been the best racehorse in the world this year,

however, is another matter.

Shirreffs maintains Zenyatta should be named Horse of the Year

despite her loss in the Classic, an award she has yet to win

despite her unbeaten run.

While Shirreffs allows her contributions to the sport off the

track should be taken into consideration, not everyone agrees.

Blame won four of his five starts this season, his only loss a

second-place finish in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. It’s a resume that

stacks up well with Zenyatta, whose five victories came against

fillies and mares.

”While I think Zenyatta ran an unbelievable race, had not only

a tremendous year but a tremendous career, but ultimately it should

be decided on the racetrack,” Pletcher said.

And only one horse knows what it’s like to beat Zenyatta:

Blame.

It’s a feat Blame’s co-owner Seth Hancock thinks is good enough

to take home the sport’s top prize.

”She had her shot to get by, and she didn’t do it,” he said.

”So I don’t think you can vote for her.”

Maybe, but there’s little doubt where public sentiment lies.

While Zenyatta basked in the flashbulbs, Blame spent the morning

after the final win of his career hanging out all alone in his

stall, the purple blanket given to the Classic winner draped over a

retaining wall in front of the barn.

AP Racing Writer Beth Harris contributed to this report.

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