A To Zenyatta

Connections make the racing world go round


World map of internet connectivity

My recent internet meanderings led me to a quote that I found intriguing and it read “What makes something better is connection.” The dictionary definitions for connection include to join, link, or fasten together; unite or bind. Connection is what helps us make sense of something, helps us form an opinion about something and what keeps us interested or, well, connected to something. Making a connection is also an act of reaching out. And once you’ve made a connection, you are no longer alone – there are now two of you. Two heads are better than one and usually mean double the energy and double the fun and soon you have 4, then 8, then 16 and well, you get the picture.

Connections are important because they define us and tell us where we are in relation to the rest of the world. Or to borrow another quote, “We know who we are and we define what we are by references to the people we love and our reasons for loving them” – Gregory David Roberts.

Lastly, our connections define what we do and Mahatma Gandhi opined that “Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.”

While I’m not all that sure about the beliefs and the destiny bit, what I do know is whenever I open my mouth, horses seem to come out. Allow me to demonstrate.

Spreading the word

2016 J&B Met lead in (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

Stories within stories – 2016 J&B Met (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

I recently had occasion to visit a physio for some therapy and as it was a new referral and the first time we met, she asked what I do for a living. Telling someone you work in horse racing is usually a conversation stopper – they’re either anti-racing, anti-gambling or happy to find something else to be anti about, but my new friend soldiered intrepidly on. Alighting on her only racing reference, she enquired about the Met. Well, you can just about imagine how that went! However, after the worst of the initial explosion dissipated, I started explaining the reasons for my ire, followed by what had transpired on the day and how and why events had affected people: the filly’s marvellous win, the story of Horse Chestnut and how he was connected, the young jockey and the chance ride and his first Grade 1 win. Alec Laird and London News, export and setting a new QEII record; the Million Dollar apprentice who pulled the rabbit out of the hat and delivered the Snaith’s Super 8. And by the end of our session she said ‘I usually ask people to be quiet while I’m treating them, but that was really interesting!’

And it’s incredible how often I get that reaction when I start telling people about racing. Small gratuitous chest puff aside, I like finding stories and enjoy the opportunity to share them via this page and any other opportunity I get, but while compliments are always welcome and I’d love to take credit for being the world’s best story teller, what constantly amazes me is that these are not MY stories. These are racing’s stories. They are OUR stories. They make sense of who we are, how we got here and why we do what we do. And they ARE interesting. And they’re out there, bristling with colour and character and CONNECTIONS just waiting to reach out and grab someone. And the reason I care about them so much is because this stuff is AMAZING! And everyone wants to be connected to things that are amazing. People gather around amazing things and they connect to it and to each other. They add to it and make it bigger and spread it around even further. So as usual, I’m left asking the question why we ignore all this amazing stuff when we have so much of it at our disposal?

Connections everywhere



The reason for asking the question (again) is that it’s been an interesting couple of weeks for connections – making them and receiving them and, particularly after my therapist and her new found racing knowledge, I got to wondering (again) why racing doesn’t use the idea a bit more often.

As if to drive the point home, shortly after finding my little quote, one of my favourite internet haunts ran an obituary for a US exercise rider named Steve Willard, who recently passed away aged 72. I’ve never met Mr Willard, but he was the regular exercise rider for Zenyatta during her racing campaign. Sometimes you chase a story and sometimes a story chases you and horses seem to work the same way. There’s an expression that you may not always end up with the horse you want, but you usually end up with the one you need. Zenyatta was one of those horses for me. Of course, with Zenyatta fever in full swing she was pretty hard to ignore, but there were plenty of other horses who got lots of press who never hit home the way she did. When she lost the Breeders Cup Classic back in 2010, I wrote “We all dream of owning a ‘big’ horse, knowing we would be lucky simply to witness such a horse once in a lifetime, nevermind owning one. But in the end it doesn’t really matter – through their kindness, the Mosses and Shirreffs have shared Zenyatta with all of us. And somehow, simply by watching her run and loving this great horse, I too have become a small part of her story. And I humbly take my place next to all the other crazies by feeling that in some way, there is a tiny part of her that will always be mine.”

I have often said that horses are great connectors and even before my Sporting Post days, the simple virtue of having a horse – or even an interest in horses – was enough to start conversations with all sorts of people in all sorts of places. It’s like a key to the universe and my conversations and connections now wind a million silken threads to a million different destinations. With the entire world connected by fibre optic cable, thanks to the magic of an internet connection and the world wide web, the world is literally at your fingertips.

Six degrees of separation

Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry

Of course, the trouble with having the world at your fingertips is that the world is literally at your fingertips, which has its ups and downs. According to Stephen Fry’s recent rant about Twitter, it “is frothy with scum, clogged with weeds and littered with broken glass, sharp rocks and slimy rubbish. If you don’t watch yourself, with every move you’ll end up being gashed, broken, bruised or contused. Even if you negotiate the sharp rocks you’ll soon feel that too many people have peed in the pool for you to want to swim there any more. The fun is over.”

Thanks to the six degrees of separation, like images in your rear view mirror, connections are now closer than they look. Which is great when they are connections you want, but slightly less so when they are of the ‘peed in the pool’ variety. But faint heart and all that. I regularly trawl the internet in its various guises for stories, inspiration and interesting people to chat to. ‘Interesting’ varies from the dictionary definition of the word to the ‘may you live in interesting times’ version, but while I do find a lot of the viewpoints bemusing, there is room for us all under the sun and, so it seems, on the internet.

The best part is that you can have as many connections as you like. They’re free! There are all these fun, but rather silly internet polls about which is your favourite horse, who do you like for the Dubai Carnival, who do you think will feature in the Triple Crown trail – why pick one? Double your fun and pick two, or three, or the whole lot for that matter. See where it takes you. Just last week, I read a horsey column online, emailed the author to say I’d enjoyed his work, and he emailed me right back to say thank you. I spent my entire high school career with a girl that I hardly ever spoke to – fast forward a few years and it turns out that we both love horses and Thoroughbreds in particular and just like that, there’s a connection. And who knows where that might lead to. That’s magic. And that’s what horses do.

Making waves

We throw stones in a pond and sometimes have no idea how far those ripples go. And that is true. When that big black mare galloped into my life she left her big, heavy hoof prints all over my heart. And I wasn’t the only one. Zenyatta collected people, she brought them together and she connected people. That was her magic. And incredibly, after her racing career was over, her fans have kept that connection going.

What I’d forgotten is that those connections run both ways. I was mulling over the loss of Mr Willard, the vagaries of the internet and the world in general, when up popped a notice that her colt Ziconic was due to debut on Saturday, 20 February and here I sat, all these years later, with Zenyatta tugging on the end of the line. And she was tugging hard.

Next generation

Thanks to the internet elves that keep the digital world ticking over, I knew that Zenyatta had retired to stud at Lane’s End Farm and on 8 March 2012 produced her first foal – a gloriously handsome dark bay colt by Bernardini – who went on to be named Cozmic One. On 1 April 2013 (her 9th birthday as it happens), her match to Tapit produced a chestnut colt named Ziconic and on 20 April 2014, Zenyatta produced a little mirror image of herself in a little War Front filly that would be named Z Princess. I joined the legions of fans in mourning when Z Princess had a paddock accident in October that year and had to be put down. So when Cozmic One made his track debut for John Sherriffs in April 2015, it created new hope and legions of fans trekked to Santa Anita to watch him run. He looked the part and seemed to follow in his dam’s footsteps, loafing 10 lengths back, but unlike Zenyatta, there was no finishing kick and he cantered across the line 8.5 lengths last in a six horse field. His second start wasn’t much better, prompting comments such as ‘never posed a threat’ and he finished 7th in an 8 horse field on 8 July. While he’s posting good work times, he seems a bit of a tearaway. US journos generously refer to him as having ‘pent up brilliance’. Reading between the lines, I suspect it may be interpreted as ‘temperament’ as he seems something of a difficult character to manage. We all heaved a collective sigh. After the loss of Z Princess it seemed too much to bear.

Then along came Ziconic. Unlike his brother, he’s been a model student, graduating unremarkably through the training ranks until he reached his 7 furlong Santa Anita debut last Saturday with Gary Stevens in the irons. He broke slowly and seemed content to loaf at the back. Stevens noted, “I was at the three-eighths pole and was so far back I said, ‘Buddy, your momma could win from here, do it.'” Ziconic almost did, rallying to finish third, 1 ¾ lengths off the winner. Stevens added, “I’ve never been cheered when I got third in a maiden special weight before, but the whole day has been fun. It’s an honor to get to ride him. John (Sherriffs) had a big smile on his face when I came back. He’s a man of few words, but that smile said it all.”

So I’m hereby throwing another stone in the pond. I have a feeling we’re going adventuring again.


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