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Breeders' Cup Nostalgia: Zenyatta

October 31, 2012 · By Erin Birkenhauer · Share

Ever have that moment where you think to yourself, “I just witnessed greatness?” At age 21, I saw Zenyatta cross the wire first in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita. I watched in awe from the grandstand as she blew by Gio Ponti and gave one of my all time favorites, Awesome Gem, an ole’ fashioned whoopin’. I witnessed greatness...

Ask anybody who knows me. They’ll tell you I’m not very well rounded. I live for horses. I think it concerned my parents for quite some time, but now they realize it’s a good thing. Very few people are fortunate enough to call their work and passion one and the same. As many say, “It’s in your blood.” But that late October day in 2009 took my love of racing to a whole new level.

We’ve all read blogs and articles about Zenyatta- she changed all of us in some way, shape, or form. I will never, ever forget the feeling I had when she won that day at Santa Anita. It changed me in a way I won’t even try to explain. Nothing could have wiped the smile off my face as I walked out of the track.


I’ll also never, ever forget the feeling I had when they loaded into the gate for the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill. Talk about mixed emotions. Total joy. Anxiety. Fear. Excitement. For my fellow three-day eventers- it’s that unexplainable mix of emotions you get when the timer starts counting you down from 10 and you walk into the start box.

If you’ve ever seen me during a big race, you know I don’t typically watch all the way through. My nerves get the best of me, I cover my eyes, and peer up at irregular intervals. I’ve tried a number of times to suck it up and just watch the damn race, but that never happens. That’s what I did on that blustery November night.

When Blame’s nose was in front at the wire, I cried. Not a regular ole’ cry, but a weep. My dad hugged me and told me everything was going to be ok. It would in fact be ok despite my total disbelief at the time. We all moved on with our lives, but never forgot.



I thank that mare for bringing so much joy to my life. I’m pretty sure I’ll never see another one like her in my lifetime. I’ll look back in 10, 20, 30, 50 years and she’ll be a defining part of my youth. I’ll share the story with my grandchildren (yes Mom, you will be a grandmother one day) and probably spend Christmas watching race replays on YouTube with them.

It was a tough decision, but I decided to stay home in Lexington and watch the Breeders’ Cup on TV this year. There’s no doubt in my mind I’ll be feeling pretty nostalgic come Saturday afternoon. Hopefully another 21-year-old is lucky enough to walk out of the track a changed person with the same youthful smile I had three years ago....

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