It’s Zenyatta vs. Blame again for horse of year

Zenyatta is retired, tucked away in her stall on a Kentucky farm

awaiting her first breeding date with a stallion. Yet the superstar

mare who went 19-1 in her career has one more race she’s trying to

win – Horse of the Year.

Zenyatta was denied in her bid last year, losing the biggest

Eclipse Award of all to filly Rachel Alexandra. She didn’t win the

year before either, losing to Curlin.

And now Blame stands in her way.

He’s the 4-year-old colt who edged Zenyatta by a head in the

Breeders’ Cup Classic, her only defeat in 20 races.

Voting for Horse of the Year has already ended, and the winner

will be announced Monday night in Miami when the Oscars of horse

racing are given out.

”I choose to remain positive,” Jerry Moss, who co-owns

Zenyatta with wife, Ann, said Thursday on a conference call. ”I’m

not ever going to get into denigrating another horse. I just think

what we’ve done is substantial enough to win this award.”

The Mosses and the rest of Team Zenyatta were openly miffed last

year after she lost to Rachel Alexandra.

Asked how he would feel if she loses again, Moss said, ”It

would be bad. I just feel with everything this great horse has

accomplished, the fact that she’s not awarded at least one Horse of

the Year award in her career is ridiculous.”

Without rancor, trainer Al Stall Jr. said he won’t feel sympathy

for Team Zenyatta if she gets beat a second time by his horse

Blame.

”No, not at all,” he said. ”Blame means that much to us as

Zenyatta does to them.”

Goldikova, who won the Breeders’ Cup Mile for the third straight

year, is the other finalist for Horse of the Year. The 5-year-old

mare already received a similar honor in Europe, and figures to

finish third in the Eclipse voting.

The Eclipse Awards are voted on by the National Thorougbhred

Racing Association, Daily Racing Form and National Turf Writers and

Broadcasters.

Moss would like to see racing fans involved, too.

”In baseball, the fans pick the All-Star teams,” he said. ”We

need to open up the game more to the fans and listen to what

they’re telling us. These are our customers and you have to pay

attention to your customers. That may get everyone else more

excited.”

There’s been plenty of back-and-forth debate on the Internet,

with fans of each horse trashing the other’s camp. Much like movie

studios campaigning for Oscars, ads have been taken out promoting

each horse’s candidacy.

”There’s so much ‘my horse is better than your horse’ stuff,”

Moss said. ”It’s sort of an uncomfortable way to go.”

Stall agreed, saying, ”Once I noticed the venom coming out in

some of the articles and some of the blogs, I kind of backed off

going there myself.

”This seems to be a little heated this year. You don’t see

anybody from my barn or Claiborne Farm (Blame’s co-owner) writing

things and getting aggravated. All those things is not what the

spirit of the award is meant to be.”

Zenyatta’s accomplishments last year were winning five Grade 1

races, including the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park in

Arkansas. Outside of there and the Breeders’ Cup, she only ran in

her home state of California.

Blame was no slouch, either.

The late-developing colt won the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap

in June. He came on strong in August, chasing down Quality Road to

win the Whitney at Saratoga, then finished second in the Jockey

Club Gold Cup. He was retired after beating Zenyatta.

”The Foster, Whitney and Jockey Club Gold Cup were tougher

races than Zenyatta had run in California,” Stall said. ”I’m kind

of a strength of schedule and a head-to-head guy, so that’s why I

feel Blame deserves the award.”

When it comes to popularity, though, Zenyatta wins

hands-down.

Regardless of the Horse of the Year results, she will be

rewarded for capturing the general public’s attention, with a

special Eclipse presented to her team for their contributions to

the sport.

Zenyatta is heavily favored to earn older female honors for the

third straight year. The Mosses are finalists for owner of the

year, while John Shirreffs is a contender for trainer of the

year.

”While we appreciate perhaps the other awards, we’re going

there to win Horse of the Year and if we don’t, we’ll be

disappointed,” Moss said.

Blame is a finalist for older male, and his co-owners Claiborne

Farm and Adele Dilschneider are up for owner of the year. Garrett

Gomez, who rode Blame, is vying for jockey of the year.

In 2009, Rachel Alexandra easily beat Zenyatta 130-99 for the

big prize, even though Zenyatta defeated the boys in the BC

Classic, which Rachel skipped.

The loss left Moss feeling ”like we won the Super Bowl and

didn’t get to take home the trophy,” he said.

In 2008, Curlin swamped Zenyatta 153-69 for the honor, although

he finished fourth in the BC Classic. Zenyatta won the BC Ladies’

Classic that year.

”If there’s a fairness doctrine, clearly she should win,” Moss

said.

Stall is prepared to handle any backlash if Blame wins.

”There will be a lot of rage if that is announced,” he said.

”I guess it’s a good thing it’s in Miami and not Beverly Hills

this year.”

The awards have alternated between Florida and California in

recent years.

Moss and his wife, Ann, plan to stop by Lane’s End Farm near

Versailles, Ky., to visit Zenyatta on their way to Miami.

”She’s doing extremely well,” Moss said, adding that in the

next few weeks he’ll announce the first stallion to be bred to

Zenyatta.

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