Zenyatta's last race: An oral history [Breeders' Cup]

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Zenyatta

Stall Jr.: “I was there basically all day because I had a horse in an earlier race. Everywhere I turned, whenever I walked through the crowd, it was Zenyatta this, Zenyatta that. Posters, hats, shirts. Lots of women, especially.”

Ingordo-Shirreffs: “I think a lot of women were looking for a sport to get behind. And they found her.”

Randy Moss: “People were underestimating the differences between racing on synthetic surfaces — which she had done in California for virtually her entire career — and racing on dirt. As a rule, the pace in dirt races is much faster than the pace in synthetic races. And she was a horse who liked to drop back.”

Hancock: “Blame had three winning races at Churchill, and we knew he liked the track. Taking it one step further, he’d even won there at night.”

Willard: “Closer to race time, Zenyatta got on edge, moved around the stall a little bit more. She was sort of venting, letting some tension free.”

Shirreffs: “I just focused on the thing I had to do next — the small steps. There’s a certain comfort in hanging around the barn.”

Stall Jr.: “I saw John Shirreffs the morning of the race when Zenyatta was out on the track. He was away from this huge crowd, and I just happened to be standing right there. I reached over and said good luck, and he said good luck to me. We shook hands, and that was it.”

Ingordo-Shirreffs: “There was only one time through all of this that John ever, ever, ever showed signs of being nervous. It was about midnight, and he was leaving to go to the track to get Zenyatta on the van to go to the airplane. We have a little procedure here in California. Every morning when (Shirreffs) leaves for the barn, Sophie the dog and I walk him to the door. At that moment he looked at me and went, ‘Whew.’ I said to him, ‘Oh, John.’ And he said, ‘Well, dear, this doesn’t come without a little bit of pressure.’”

*****

Mike Penna, Horse Racing Radio Network owner: “We were in the radio booth, right on the finish line above the press box. People were lined up on both sides of the gap where the horses were going to come onto the track from the barn area. They had to be 200 or 300 people deep. As she was coming through you could tell it was her because it was starting to get dark and you could see the flashbulbs popping.”

Denman: “This was like a boxing match. There might have been world champions in the pre-fight lower divisions, but all of a sudden, here was Muhammad Ali stepping into the ring.”

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