Zenyatta Breeders Cup Classic Predictions: Will She Win?
by Trevor Whenham - 11/2/2010
They might as well rename the Breeders’ Cup the Zenyatta Cup this year, because the six-year-old mare is all that anyone is talking about. She was on “60 Minutes,” she has had pictorials in magazines, Oprah Winfrey is talking about her - she’s everywhere. There is no doubt that she deserves all the attention she is getting. After all, she has won all 19 races she has run in in her life - you don’t do that by accident or if you aren’t brilliant.
She has also won Breeders’ Cup races two years in a row - the Ladies’ Classic in 2008, and the Classic last year. She in unquestionably a massive factor in the Classic this year as well - and she is going to draw the lion’s share of the betting attention in the race because the public is totally and unquestioningly in love with her.
The question, though, is whether she is going to win the race. You’ll have to buy our Breeders Cup picks to find out whether we think she will or not, but what I am going to do is build a case for both sides here:
She Will Win Because...
She did it before - We know that she can beat top male horses at a mile and a quarter on the biggest stage for older horses in the world because she did it just last year. None of her opposition can claim that.
Not only did she win last year, but she did it in stunning fashion by unleashing an incredibly powerful move down the stretch. The Churchill stretch has seen it’s share of incredible stretch drives - Mine That Bird in last year’s Derby comes to mind - and this could be another one.
She doesn’t lose - Just think about it - she has never lost a single race in her entire career. Not one. She has won races easily. She has fought and clawed to the narrowest of wins. The common denominator, though, is that she is first at the wire.
No horse since Cigar has had, in my eyes, the killer instinct and total unwillingness to settle for anything other than first that Zenyatta has. More than anything else horse racing is about heart, and on that she can’t be beat.
She has trained brilliantly - Her last race was a bit of a joke, but since then she has looked like a total pro. Her last workout was flawless, and she is as ready as she can physically be for this challenge. When a horse of her caliber is in shape and in form you have to like her.
Questions about opposition - This is a very intriguing and deep Classic field. There are questions, though, about virtually every horse. There isn’t one that is a lock to handle the distance perfectly.
Quality Road needs to be able to get the lead and stay on it despite the ferosious charge that will come behind him. Blame has been impressive, but was beaten in very odd fashion last time out. Lookin at Lucky was a disappointment both in the last Breeders’ Cup and the last time he was at Churchill in the Derby. Haynesfield has to prove that his Jockey Club Gold Cup win wasn’t the fluke it looks to be. Fly Down, Paddy O’Prado and First Dude need to step up and show that they can do more than just get a piece of things.
There are a lot of potentially great horses, but none that unquestionably deserve that distinction yet - other than Zenyatta.
Destiny - This might sound silly, but you’ll get it if you are a horse racing fan. Racing is for romantics, and romantics know that sometimes things happen just because they are supposed to. A 20th and final win would be unprecedented and incredible - the perfect cap to a perfect career.
She Won’t Win Because...
Quality of competition this year compared to last year - This field may not be largely proven at this distance, but it’s very deep. Lookin at Lucky, Blame, and Quality Road could easily win the race. Fly Down, First Dude, and Haynesfield are extremely dangerous if the race sets up right for them. Horses like Musket Man and Pleasant Prince have shown sparks of brilliance.
Zenyatta is by far the biggest name in this race, but people who follow racing know that this is a tough, tough field. Last year wasn’t nearly as tough. The best horse in the field was likely Quality Road, and he was scratched at the starting gate because he wouldn’t load. Gio Ponti was second to Zenyatta, and it took all her effort to get past him. He’s a very nice horse, but he’s a turf specialist who should have been out of his element.
The rest of the field either wasn’t any good or wasn’t in any form. This field might not look great in retrospect, either, but at this point she certainly looks to be up against tougher overall competition this time around.
Who she has raced this year - I give her connections nothing but credit for running her in the Classic last year. Their schedule since then has been a joke, though.
Instead of really challenging herself, running against boys again, or visiting some of the major tracks in the East, she has run all but one race in California, and she has faced mostly also-rans and second-rate female runners.
It’s not entirely her fault that other owners don’t want to face her, but it isn’t impressive that she has been sent through the easiest possible route to this point.
We don’t know if she can stand up to the intensity of this challenge, because she hasn’t beaten anyone this year, and hasn’t looked overwhelmingly powerful getting past second-rate horses.
You can argue that she hasn’t been as sharp as she would ideally be this year because she hasn’t needed to be, but that requires a leap of faith. Sometimes leaps of faith don’t have a place in handicapping.
Speed – Statistically, Zenyatta just doesn’t measure up to some of the best in this field.
The Beyer speed rating isn’t a perfect stat, but it is a good measure for horses. The par rating for horses that win this race is 109. Zenyatta’s top Beyer is 103 this year.
Seven horses in the field have had a higher Beyer this year. Zenyatta looks like she could have lost a step this year - hard to tell because she hasn’t really been tested by her competition - and the rest of the field hasn’t. Her best might not be good enough here.
Surface - In her 19 wins Zenyatta has run on dirt just twice. Both have been in Arkansas. this is her first time at Churchill, and it will likely be the biggest, loudest crowd she has ever seen. It will also be cooler than she is used to. The transition from synthetic tracks to dirt isn’t always a smooth one.
On top of that, she likes to swing very wide both in the last turn and down the stretch. Churchill is a quirky place, and the wide lane isn’t often particularly kind to runners. Other horses in this field are proven on this very tough track. Zenyatta isn’t. Frankly, there are more reasons to believe she won’t thrive on it than that she will.
Doc’s Sports Breeders Cup Picks will be relaeased on Friday, Nov. 5. For $25 you will get Doc’s top pick for all eight races during the Saturday main schedule and also we will offer a full array of exotics for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
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