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Sports fans are naturally fascinated with who or what is the greatest of all time. Jordan or James? Brady or Montana? Woods or Nicklaus?
With Monomoy Girl’s 14th win out of 16 starts last Sunday at Oaklawn Park, she’s entered the rare air of becoming an all-time great, though she isn’t quite yet at the top.
Female horses rarely enter the discussions of the all-timers, in part because only males have won Triple Crowns. The short list of all-time greats must therefore include horses like Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and American Pharoah. Even those who didn’t accomplish such a feat are worthy, such as Curlin.
After Sunday, we can now begin comparing Monomoy Girl to the greatest American racehorse of all time: the one and only Zenyatta.
Her record of 19 wins from 20 starts is unbelievable. Her 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) victory against the best older dirt males in the world remains one of the greatest moments in the sport’s history. Unequaled in the modern era are her personality, her exciting last-to-first running style, her thousands of adoring fans.
The thing about her running style is, to win 19 times defies words. If she veered outside to avoid traffic, then she did. If she dove inside and got trapped, then she switched back outside with one athletic move. She won easily and she won by a nose. She overcame nearly anything thrown at her and was as close to a sure thing as it gets.
She made us care; she made horses seem human. She was a diva, a superstar, a thing of beauty, and she was our horse. She made us smile, and in her final start, she made us cry.
I remember her 20th race like it happened yesterday (I can’t believe it was over 10 years ago). Zenyatta took on the boys in the Breeders’ Cup Classic for the second time; winning would have meant retiring undefeated. The build-up that day was unlike anything we’d seen. 60 Minutes did a feature; her trainer and owners became famous. America fell in love with everything about her.
Zenyatta ran an incredible race but lost in heartbreaking fashion by the slimmest of margins. I was utterly exhausted. I stared at the TV for at least 10 minutes, and yes, there were tears in my eyes. No horse had ever caused me to tear up before or since, and I guarantee there were countless others just like me that night.
Sure, she didn’t win the Kentucky Derby (G1) or any other Triple Crown event – she didn’t even run as a 3-year-old. With Zenyatta, it’s not so much about what she won; it’s what she represented.
She captured a nation and introduced horse racing to scores of new fans. She was a personality, a heart-warming story. Bettors never made much money on her because she was always 1/5 or 1/9, but we didn’t care. There will never be another like her.
So, Monomoy Girl, you’re entering legendary territory. The mere fact that I’m even considering you in Queen Zenyatta’s class is astonishing, but what you’ve done so far is pretty damn good.
You even have a good story, too. You lost your entire 4-year-old season because of persistent injuries and a life-threatening illness, but you returned with an undefeated championship 5-year-old season. I wish you and your handlers the very best and I hope you keep winning. It’s sure going to be fun watching you this year.
Have a great week, everyone, and good luck at the track.
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