The news that Zenyatta is going to run as a six year old mare in 2010 was a sweet sound to many horse racing fans in North America and around the world. Most of us are used to hearing about early retirements of our favorite horses to be rushed off to the breeding shed in order to bring bring their owners millions of dollars. We're not used to a horse with the stature of a Zenyatta returning to the track, it just doesn't happen very often (although we've been blessed the last couple of years with Curlin, Rachel Alexandra, and Zenyatta all racing longer than most other top horses).
I caught an interview with Zenyatta's owner, Jerry Moss, on HRTV right after the announcement yesterday and it was a pleasure to hear his reasons for bringing back this super mare. Moss noted that Zenyatta still had that racing look to her, she was still eager to be at the track and she was still eager to run and compete. I think that is an important note for this reason: the thoroughbred was designed specifically to run, that is their purpose in life - it's what they are bred to do. A thoroughbred that is stuck in a barn or even a pasture some place where it doesn't get a chance to do what it was designed to do is a tragic thing for that horse. And perhaps that's what gets to me the most when we talk about horses retiring early to head to the breeding shed - the denial of a great horse doing what it was created to do.
If we look at some of the other recent notable retirements we come across a bunch of lightly raced horses that the owners couldn't wait to stick into breeding shed. One horse that immediately comes to mind is the 2008 winner of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe: Zarkava. Immediately following that race Zarkava's owner, HH Aga Kahn IV, retired the filly and sent her off to the breeding shed sporting a perfect 7-for-7 lifetime record.
Seven starts. That's all the world got to see of this wonderful filly.
Was Zarkava retired due to injury? By all accounts, no. She was retired so that her owners could try and produce another great race horse (which would likely be retired early if it was a winner). And while that's their right as owners you got to wonder: is that the best thing for the horse, assuming that the animal is sound? Why are they in such a hurry to produce another great horse when you already have one? It can't be just about the money as these owners are already rich. And to the point I was making earlier: this thoroughbred was retired at the peak of her career. Doesn't that seem cruel? We breed these animals to be great runners and then, if we've been ultra successful and produced a truly great runner, we deny them the ability to do the thing that we created them to do: race. That just doesn't make sense to me.
By bringing Zenyatta back to the races in 2010, the Moss' are allowing this great mare to continue to do what she loves. Eventually, Zenyatta will lose interest in racing, as all thoroughbreds do at some point. And when that moment arrives it will certainly be time for her to enjoy her post-racing life. But if she still wants to run (and is sound physically) then the news of her un-retirement is not only great for the fans but it's great for the horse, as well.