Is Zenyatta The Best Racehorse Ever?

Jockey Believes Zenyatta Has "Another Gear" And Hasn't Seen Her Fastest Yet

Next Saturday, she could become the first great American athlete to retire undefeated in more than half a century, since Rocky Marciano stepped down from the ring. Her name is Zenyatta, she's six years old and she is a thoroughbred. She has run in 19 races, and she has won 19 races. And now she's going for number 20 at what many believe is the most prestigious competition of the year: the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Some of the best horses from around the world will be running at Churchill Downs and they're all males, except for Zenyatta. At the age of six, she will also be the oldest horse in the race. The stakes are extremely high, and not just in millions of dollars.

Zenyatta is so adored by horse lovers that if she doesn't beat the boys and win one last time, hearts will be broken everywhere. It would be Babe Ruth striking out in his last at-bat.



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Her life story can be told in one line: she does not know how to lose. But the first thing we noticed about Zenyatta was not her might, but her magnificence.

She is quite simply the most splendid creature we'd ever seen. She's big for a mare, taller than most of the boys in the stable, and very calm. Thoroughbreds are supposed to be high strung and hot blooded, but there's something Zen about Zenyatta. She loves kids and welcomes strangers, particularly when they come bearing gifts.

When she hits the track though, there is a personality change you can barely believe. She becomes obsessed, it seems, with showing the boys that she is faster and tougher than any one of them. She drives people into fits of frenzy.

This was how the announcer captured it at last year's Breeders' Cup: "Zenyatta has come to the outside. Zenyatta coming flying on the grandstand side. Gio Ponti on the inside. Summer Bird is right there. This is un-be-lieve-able! Zenyatta!"

Her Hall of Fame jockey, Mike Smith, has won all the races in the Triple Crown, and nearly 5,000 more.

"How does Zenyatta compare to the other horses you've been on who won these championship races?" correspondent Bob Simon asked.

"She means more to me than all those," Smith said.

Asked if he can explain why, Smith said, "She's just who she is. She's Zenyatta. She's incredible. She's unbeaten. She's done everything that we've ever asked of her."

When asked if history will be made next week at the Breeders' Cup, Smith told Simon, "She's ready. I'll be ready. And she's ready. And like I said before, given the opportunity, I think we could see somethin' incredible."

Zenyatta lives in Hollywood, and at more than 1,200 pounds, she's the biggest star in town. The camera loves her and she loves the camera. Before every race, she poses and struts and does a little dance.

But once on the track, she's a Ferrari racing against a pack of Volvos.

Track announcer Vic Stauffer has called Zenyatta's races from the very start, which is when she was just another horse. "And the bad start has Zenyatta at the back of the pack," Stauffer said during the second race.

That's where Zenyatta has always started - in the back, lingering languidly as if she's on a Sunday outing. But then she turns up the juice and slams into high gear.