Sunday, October 31, 2010

Why Zenyatta Loses Big on Saturday

I debated a week before posting this, and decided to go ahead and risk looking like an idiot. First of all, I hope she wins and cements her HOY and status as one of the best ever. But that won’t happen on dirt.

Politics aside, synthetic and dirt are different, not good or bad, just different. Many of her rivals in the Classic have prepped the last few months on the hard surfaces out East, while she has remained in CA racing and training on the synthetic. Now if she was out there breezing a mile I would be happy, but 6F on synthetic is like 4F on dirt in what it takes out of a horse – not enough in my opinion.

Imagine taking batting practice against fastballs for a month, then all of a sudden seeing a curveball. Unless you are supremely talented, you likely need some practice in order to hit the curve as well as the heater. Different neurological coordination is required, different firing and relaxing of the muscles, different eye/hand coordination, etc.

Granted, she went to Oaklawn and won on dirt this spring, but none of those females have won a G1 this year and the Beyer pace figs rated the Apple Blossom as the slowest in 26 years.

Furthermore, she has a one dimensional running style not suited towards a speed favoring track. She has made her living walking out of the gate, laying 10 lengths back, and coming home strong. Essentially she runs a negative split, where her final quarter or half mile is faster than her first. Physiologically, that is the most effective way to maximize her effort – but she will not be allowed that luxury in the Classic, she will have to battle the lactic acid buildup in the final eighth like everyone else – only this will be the first time in her life having to deal with that pain.

Other trainers out West have started to see this perspective, after synthetic babies went something like 0 for 50 in the Kentucky Derby the past few years. Bob Baffert, for instance, took Looking at Lucky to Oaklawn for the dirt in March, and again took him to Hoosier Park last month for his final prep before the Breeders Cup.

Why did Sheriffs not do the same with Big Z? She won’t even get to Churchill until Tuesday, a few light gallops over the track and boom, it’s racetime.

At some point, the Mosses seemed to indicate that Zenyatta would travel East in 2010 and make the rounds on the dirt circuit, but that never happened. Why not, at the very least, bring her to Louisville a month early and get in several works over the surface?

Her handlers seem to think she is 10 lengths better on dirt, but I bet you there are 100+ trainers who think their charges are ready to excel next weekend, and only about 10 of them will be correct.

She is extremely talented of course, and if she can overcome the handicap of spending 99% of her life on a surface different than that at Churchill, she deserves the accolades she will surely receive with a rousing victory.

But, I see her running out of time to make that patented move and finishing out of the money.

Come November 7th I will either be a prophet or a bozo. Put your vote in the comments below, along with any suggestions about something embarrassing I can post as punishment should she win by 5.


  1. You are a brave man Bill. I salute you and wish you luck.

    P.S. I am also picking against her but will have no problem with her winning.

  2. you have it wrong.comparing baffert to sheriff
    both accomplished trainer,both know there horses,and both know what is best for thier horses.

  3. Have a Point and stick with it. Guts is what you have Sir...and I also see her not winning

  4. I for one think that Zenyatta is better on dirt. Do we know how often she has trained on the dirt training track at Hollywood? Think about that. I will bet that she has done more than we know on that track. Don't underestimate what the Big Mare can do. Just sayin'...

  5. Great point Susan, I know of at least one gallop this week at Hollywood that was meant for the dirt but moved to Synth due to rain.

    Hoewever, most trainers will tell you - training and racing over a surface are 2 different things.

  6. It's certainly true that she'd benefit from more experience running on the dirt. That's uncontestable. But with her running style of coming from behind the dirt actually helps her more than it hurts her in that it gives her more traction to push off from while she's accelerating.