Jerry Moss, the show business star maker, business executive, member of the California Horse Racing Board, racehorse owner and breeder, and longtime racing fan, has seen his green and pink silks fly for the past four years on one of the most electrifying horses in the history of Thoroughbred sport, the undefeated champion Zenyatta.
This Saturday the massive mare -- who stands better than 17 hands and weighs more than 1,200 pounds -- will try for her 18th consecutive victory when she runs in Del Mar's Grade I, $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes, a race she has won the past two years.
Almost two months ago -- on June 9, 2010 to be exact -- Moss sat in his Beverly Hills office and spoke about his once-in-a-lifetime horse and what it means to him and others to have her be part of their lives. He spoke about her 'retirement,' and the subsequent process to return her to racing. The conversation took place just four days before Zenyatta would add a 17th victory to her ledger with a thrilling run through the Hollywood Park stretch to capture the Vanity Handicap.
Q -- You've talked about the "magic" of owning a horse; especially a horse like Zenyatta. You've said you wish you could share that "magic" with others. Can you? Can you speak to what it means to have Zenyatta in your life?
Moss -- "She is perfection in a very important way. She didn't just happen to show up in the barn and then all of a sudden start winning all these races all in a row; it took a tremendous effort by a great group of people headed by (trainer) John Shirreffs. There are 14 different people that touch her every day*. It is quite amazing. And they're all just great to her and they all deserve a large part of this.
(*Stable manager Dottie Ingordo provided the list of 14 people who touch Zenyatta each day and it appears at the end of this piece.)
"I think it's everyone's dream that if people do their part, then you get brilliance from all that. You know, that if people work together something incredible happens and it is magic. It's sort of a harmonic convergence, if you will ... where everyone's working in the same direction and everyone gets a reward for being touched by this magnificent animal. So we're thrilled to be a part of it. I mean I've felt this happen sometimes in the record business where the campaign is just incredible, but yet the music is so touching and people reach out for it and it inspires so many people. So I'm used to having those other forces, if you will, inspire a willing audience. And this is what Zenyatta means to me -- she's been a great symbol for that.
"And to win 16 races is not an easy thing; every different track we ran on -- every different track has its conditions, everybody we ran against has their talent and, as you know, on any given day a horse can not have a great day. But she gets so much room from John -- room to improve, room to not, perhaps, do her best work on a certain day. But nothing is serious around her; everybody is having a good time with her, there's no nervousness, and there's no pressure. And it's up to her to do this performance, as long as she's having fun we'll continue doing this. She is one professional racehorse; she steps up, it seems, whenever she should.
"For me, it's a meaning of life in a way. People working together to make something great happen."
Q -- What was the decision process for you? She ran her magnificent race in the Breeders' Cup; she reached the mountaintop. And you said, 'OK, guys, that's it, we're going to shut it down.' But then, there was a change.
Moss -- "Well, I made an emotional decision because I was so taken by that race. I said, my god, how can I ask her to do anything else? And, of course, I didn't get a chance to talk to my wife about that; I didn't get a chance to talk to my trainer; I didn't talk to my racing manager (Dottie Ingordo, who also is married to John Shirreffs) -- who were a bit grumpy with me at the end of this thing, saying: 'We're Team Zenyatta and you made a decision.' Well, I said I feel strongly about that because what else can we ask her to do? And they all agreed with me on that -- what else can we ask her to do? She won an historic race in an historic fashion. Trevor Denman said it was the greatest race he's ever seen and he's called like 60,000 of them, or seen 60,000 of them.
Zenyatta: A Maker Of Memories To Cherish For All Time
Do you remember where you were when ... ???
It's always been a popular pastime for Americans in recalling momentous occasions, and in Thoroughbred racing where wagering is a major factor, jockey Mike Smith is betting he can place thousands, maybe millions, where they were and what they were doing on Saturday, November 7, 2009.
That's when Zenyatta, who seeks her 18th consecutive victory in Saturday's Clement L. Hirsch Stakes and third straight in the race, wrote history by becoming the first female to win the Breeders' Cup Classic. The thousands at Santa Anita that day and, doubtless, the millions watching on television surely would testify to Smith's belief.
Remembering how the Santa Anita crowd responded to the majestic Zenyatta, Smith could only say, "I think people realized that they had just seen something that they will never forget." And he counts himself among them, though he was involved far more than any other fan, being up close and personal as Zenyatta's rider.
"I've never seen a crowd react to a horse like that," Smith continued. "When I rode Holy Bull, the crowds -- especially those in Florida -- were impressed, but I've never seen a whole crowd stand on its feet like that for what seemed like 20 minutes. It just went on and on, and I started looking at the crowd and there were people crying [for joy]."
Looking back over his 14 races as regular jockey of the two-time Eclipse Award champion older female, Smith recalled that she wasn't always the picture of the perfect lady. "When we started," he said, "she was still pretty nervous and she didn't know exactly what was going on. But she was a quick study and it didn't take her long to figure it out.
"Not only did she figure it out," he continued, "she took it to levels I had never seen before. It's become a big show to her. Every time she gets ready to run, she plays, she strikes a pose, she does a dance, and sometimes stands up and towers over the field.
"You can almost imagine her saying, 'This place is mine,'" said the ebullient Smith.
"It's just amazing how she grew into this," he added. "If she was a country music star, she could be Entertainer of the Year."
Her special dance that charms paddock fans began to develop, Smith recalls, shortly after his second time aboard, at the same time Team Zenyatta, headed by trainer John Shirreffs, chose not to put her through normal pre-race warm-ups. Instead, she was allowed to just do what made her feel best, hence the dance -- basically, a strut that features a head bob and legs thrust forward in the manner of a Russian dancer.
"She used to get a little hot when she'd warm up," Smith remembers. "So we just walked her and that's when she decided she'd just do this dance. Then when she realized the people liked it, she just started doing it more. She's really just a ham at heart."
That doesn't mean she's not focused on her job -- to win races. When she reaches the gate, Smith says, she's all business -- but in a laid-back way. "She just settles down and waits for the gate to open. Then she watches them go out and goes out behind them."
As for getting home first, Smith said, "It's like she knows where the wire is anymore. She makes it a little closer than we all like sometimes. But I think we're the only ones that are worried.
"She's definitely a gift from God. She makes you think that if God wanted to get into this game, he would send her. She's not from here."
Zenyatta's presence has reached far and wide, conjuring wonderful visions of her other-worldly being, not the least of which was produced rhapsodically by free-lance writer Ellen Parker following Zenyatta's record-setting 17th consecutive victory in Hollywood Park's Grade I Vanity Handicap.
Here's her take on the majestic mare: "Zenyatta's dramatic charge in the Vanity brought to mind the words of respected journalist Kent Hollingsworth, who once wrote of 1971 European Horse of the Year Mill Reef: 'His races were not marked by sudden acceleration, just with relentless, increasing power.'
"Great horses have much in common. They stir the spirit of crowds ... They energize a sport ..."