Ranking Zenyatta


Zenyatta is scheduled to make her final public appearance in California during a special celebration at Hollywood Park this Sunday. The 6-year-old superstar is to visit the paddock after the sixth race before being paraded on the track in front of the grandstand and clubhouse.

The next day, Zenyatta is to arrive in Lexington, Ky. The plan is for the Kentucky-bred daughter of Street Cry to be paraded at Keeneland before heading to her new Kentucky home at Lane's End Farm.

Now that Zenyatta's career is over, with 19 wins and a loss by only a few inches from 20 lifetime starts, where does she rank among America's all-time great female Thoroughbreds?

On ESPN, after Blame narrowly defeated Zenyatta in this year's Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs, Joe Tessitore asked Randy Moss and Jerry Bailey, 'All right, gentlemen, the legacy of Zenyatta will be?'

'She's the greatest female racehorse of all time,' Moss said.

'I would have to agree,' Bailey said.

'And Blame undoubtedly will go on to win Horse of the Year,' Tessitore stated, as if that is written in stone.

'Undoubtedly will be Horse of the Year,' Moss agreed.

Blame undoubtedly will be 2010 Horse of the Year? Really? It's a done deal? Well, I don't think so. I'd say there is plenty of doubt about that. In fact, my feeling is Zenyatta will be voted Horse of the Year. I am not positive about that, though. Last year, I was positive Rachel Alexandra would be voted Horse of the Year. That turned out to be the case. But this time, when the envelope containing the name of the 2010 Horse of the Year is opened in Miami next Jan. 17, I will be somewhat surprised if it is not Zenyatta.

As for Moss saying that Zenyatta is the greatest female racehorse of all time, I personally put her at No. 2. My opinion is that Ruffian, who tied or broke a track or stakes record in all 10 of her starts against fillies, is No. 1. Ruffian's average margin in those 10 victories was eight lengths. She won from 5 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/2 miles. I just can't picture Zenyatta catching Ruffian.

Here is my list of the all-time Top 10 female Thoroughbreds in American racing history:

1. Ruffian
2. Zenyatta
3. Personal Ensign
4. Regret
5. Rachel Alexandra
6. Busher
7. Twilight Tear
8. Ta Wee
9. Shuvee
10. Pan Zareta

While Moss did say that Zenyatta is the greatest female racehorse of all time, he certainly did not deserve the criticism directed at him in a letter to the editor in a Nov. 20 edition of the Thoroughbred Times.

'After listening to ESPN's Randy Moss, in the heat of the moment of Zenyatta's loss to Blame, stating that she was the best horse of all time, I felt compelled to add my two cents because I feel that he and every other Zenyatta fan spouting this over-the-top opinion needs to be set straight,' the letter stated.

Actually, it is the writer of that letter, Dini DiNatale of Westerville, Ohio, who needs to be set straight. I contacted Moss to find out if he has ever said Zenyatta is 'the best horse of all time.' As I suspected, he has never said that.

While Moss did say on ESPN that Zenyatta is 'the greatest female racehorse of all time (and he now wishes he had qualified that by saying the greatest American female racehorse of all time), he most definitely does not consider her to be 'the greatest horse of all time.' In fact, Moss told me he could not put Zenyatta in his Top 20 all time.

Where do I think Zenyatta ranks among America's all-time greatest Thoroughbreds? That, I think, is a difficult question to answer.

Does Zenyatta belong in the Top 100? I don't think there is any doubt about that.

Does she belong in the Top 50? Yes, I think so.

How about the Top 10? No, I would not put Zenyatta in the Top 10 all time.

Last March I wrote that if Zenyatta never gets beat, there remains the possibility that she would beat everybody she ever runs against. But now that Blame did defeat Zenyatta in the Breeders' Cup Classic, I think we have a much better idea as to where Zenyatta fits among the all-time elite.

Zenyatta certainly ran a marvelous race in defeat in the Breeders' Cup Classic. But the fact is she did get beat. Zenyatta got beat by Blame, a very good horse, but not a great horse, at least in my opinion.

Could Blame have beaten Man o' War, Secretariat or Citation? I'd say Blame would have the same chance against them that I would if I played a game of one-on-one against Kobe Bryant, LeBron James or Kevin Durant.

This is my all-time Top 10 list:

1. Man o' War
2. Secretariat
3. Citation
4. Kelso
5. Spectacular Bid
6. Dr. Fager
7. Native Dancer
8. Seattle Slew
9. Count Fleet
10. Forego

Could Zenyatta have defeated any of those 10 if she could not quite beat Blame? I seriously doubt it. But Zenyatta showed me enough during her nearly perfect career that she does make my next 10:

11. Affirmed
12. Swaps
13. Tom Fool
14. Buckpasser
15. Round Table
16. Ruffian
17. Colin
18. Zenyatta
19. Seabiscuit
20. War Admiral

Speaking of America's all-time greats, earlier this year a reader of this column, Steve Ragone, shared his opinions on this subject. He took the time to write me eight pages of his thoughts.

Ragone does not agree with me -- or many others -- that Man o' War, Secretariat and Citation are the three greatest.

'I don't believe by relegating Man o' War and Secretariat to some ranking other than No. 1 or No. 2 means I think they are overrated (though by strict definition I guess assigning a higher number to each amounts to that),' Ragone wrote. 'In fact, when I first starting thinking about this years ago, I had the preconceived notion that their standing was indisputable. Over time, with a good amount of digging, objectivity and logic, my mind has been somewhat changed.

'I came to realize that one could argue for or against any of the great horses. The relative merits of the arguments would be up for deliberation. So I decided that realistically, and to be fair, anything not in the past performances or derived from tangible data should not be used to evaluate greatness. I developed a set of criteria based on what made sense to me, what seemed logical and fair, and not what I thought would help or hinder certain horses' final evaluation.'

Ragone listed these as what he called his minimum requirements:

--Primarily a dirt runner.

--Won at 1 1/4 miles or longer.

These were what he termed his principal considerations:

--High win percentage.

--In-the-money percentage.

--Sustainability of greatness.

--Ran as an older horse.

--Performance in handicap races.


--Who they beat.

--Who beat them.

--Record vs. older horses.

--Raced on multiple circuits.

--Triple Crown record.

--Foal-crop size.

Ragone said these were the horses he considered in trying to determine who was the all-time greatest in America, listed alphabetically: Affirmed, Awesome Again, Buckpasser, Colin, Citation, Count Fleet, Damascus, Dr. Fager, Forego, Ghostzapper, Hoist the Flag, Invasor, Kelso, Majestic Prince, Man o' War, Native Dancer, Personal Ensign, Ruffian, Seattle Slew, Secretariat, Smarty Jones, Spectacular Bid, Sunday Silence, Swaps and War Admiral.

So, if not Man o' War, Secretariat and Citation, then who does Ragone consider the three greatest Thoroughbreds in American racing history?

1. Dr. Fager

1. Seattle Slew

3. Native Dancer

No, that is not a typo. Ragone makes it a dead heat between Dr. Fager and Seattle Slew.

'I couldn't separate Fager and Slew,' he wrote. 'Call me a cop-out.'

Ragone went on to explain why he feels Dr. Fager and Seattle Slew are the two greatest of all time in America:

'Two of the only three horses to cross the line ahead of Dr. Fager were champions (Successor, Buckpasser and Damascus). Buckpasser and Damascus were Horses of the Year and all-time Hall of Fame greats. Dr. Fager beat top-caliber turf horses the one time he tried it while giving massive weight. He carried obscene weight and may have owned many more records if he'd run under today's imposts.

'We do know that the three horses that finished ahead of Seattle Slew in the Swaps Stakes, J.O. Tobin, Text and Affiliate, were each Grade I winners apart from this race, and each won and placed in a multitude of graded stakes throughout their careers. J.O. Tobin was a champion. The only other horses to beat Slew to the wire were Exceller, a Hall of Famer, and Dr. Patches, a champion. That's it. But what truly elevates Seattle Slew to the upper echelon of all time was that he soundly whipped Affirmed in their two meetings. Given that Triple Crown winners are apparently elevated for that alone, as with Secretariat and Citation, it would be somewhat illogical to not give Slew the nod over them given that he proceeded to have a stellar 4-year-old season in addition.'

Is Ragone right to think Dr. Fager and Seattle Slew are the two greatest Throughbreds in the history of American racing? Maybe. But I am sticking with Man o' War, Secretariat and Citation, which are the same top three, in that order, in The Blood-Horse's book, 'Thoroughbred Champions: Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century.'

In that book, a distinguished panel of seven ranked the Top 100 American racehorses of the century. The panelists were Howard Battle (racing official), Lenny Hale (racing official), Jay Hovdey (writer), William Nack (writer), Pete Pedersen (racing official), Jennie Rees (writer) and Tommy Trotter (racing official).

I felt the panelists did a good job with such a difficult task, especially with their Top 10. However, I did think they had Ruffian way too low at No. 35, even though she was ranked the highest among fillies and mares.

Here is the list of The Blood-Horse's Top 20 racehorses of the 20th Century:

1. Man o' War
2. Secretariat
3. Citation
4. Kelso
5. Count Fleet
6. Dr. Fager
7. Native Dancer
8. Forego
9. Seattle Slew
10. Spectacular Bid
11. Tom Fool
12. Affirmed
13. War Admiral
14. Buckpasser
15. Colin
16. Damascus
17. Round Table
18. Cigar
19. Bold Ruler
20. Swaps

While I believe Spectacular Bid should have been ranked higher, I do see eye-to-eye with the esteemed panel in terms of their superfecta.

by Jon White
from xpressbet.com


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