Last night at around 11:00pm CT, the news broke on Twitter that champion mare Zenyatta had given birth to her first foal, a colt by Bernardini. Minutes later, Zenyatta’s official blog posted an entry giving the vital details about the newborn foal and provided a photo and video of the new mother and son. The sweet picture of Zenyatta and her colt went viral in the horse racing world, being reposted countless times on Twitter and on Facebook, with nearly a thousand comments of congratulations posted on her Facebook page by noon the next day. It was the second time this winter a female Horse of the Year gave birth to her first foal, as the 2009 Eclipse winner, Rachel Alexandra, had her Curlin colt on January 22nd. Just as in the case of Zenyatta’s foaling, the online racing community was a-buzz within hours of first word and photos, with fans lighting up their social media to offer up congratulations for the new mom.
Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra were superhorses, leaving their marks in history with a fire that will never burn out. And their fans were nothing if not passionate at the races and thereafter, wearing their love for their favorite horse literally on their sleeves, bursting with adoration and enthusiasm for the sport. These mares gave racing’s pulse a jolt of electricity, proving that yes, if you support and promote a great horse, the fans won’t only come, they will spread the word by showing an outpouring of love at the track and online, where fandoms reign and prosper. Rachel Alexandra was mentioned on The Daily Show with John Stewart after her Preakness victory and was later featured in Vogue Magazine before taking the 2009 Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year. Zenyatta got her own spot on 60 Minutes, and was featured in O and W Magazine before being voted the 2010 Horse of the Year.
While it is doubtful any other horse, male or female, will equal the popularity and brilliance of either of these two mares, the fans they brought out of the woodwork during their inspiring careers proved that horse racing can generate the attention it needs to survive. Horse racing is a sport steeped in its history and traditions and is slow to embrace new ideas, especially change. But at a time where people can update an event moments after it occurs, instantly informing the general public, accessibility and transparency suddenly matters.
Horse racing is a game that needs transparency on several levels, not just for safety and ethical issues, but also to erase the stigma it is a seedy, ugly world ducking from public scrutiny. People, by nature, are distrustful of things they don’t understand. And now, people have access to information more than they ever did before. In order to survive in this day and age, racing must allow itself to better connect with the public on all levels, not only to cull interest, but to prove that it does care about its fans.
For horse racing to continue to grow, it needs fans like never before. It cannot exist on bettors alone. As much as some traditionalists would hate to admit, fans can make or break this sport. When fans truly understand the sport, when they become invested in the horses and the love of the game, they become Thoroughbred owners, investors, promoters, members of racing media, and yes, bettors, all because someone along the line did something right and showed them how amazing the world of racing could really be. Jerry and Ann Moss are beloved in the racing world for allowing fans to have up-close and personal experiences with Zenyatta, from parading her in front of packed grandstands so fans could have the chance to say goodbye, to letting fans to have their picture taken with the champ.
Transparency must start from the ground up, beginning as Rachel and Zenyatta’s connections have done, in the foaling stall. Through the spread of media and the excitement of new hope, interest in the future begins. People are allowed to witness and fall in love with the process of a foal taking its first steps, and hopefully that coverage will continue throughout its life, letting fans see the ins and out of the business as well as the life of these youngsters, from the first gallop in a pasture, to the first training session, and if all goes well, to its first races. And once the horse retires, its connections should respect the public by being clear about that, too, because they have invested their time, money, and hearts into the successes and failures of that horse. This transparency will help inform new and future Thoroughbred owners, as well, and make them understand the retirement process—which, in turn, will be better for the horses, who are more likely to end up in good homes if handled by people who care about their well-being.
As an owner, you don’t have to dedicate your time to keeping up a blog, or a Facebook or Twitter feed, but you can help the industry by communicating openly about your horses. Talk to the media, let the public know how a horse is doing and where they might be headed. Be candid, keep in mind those future owners who are now just running fan pages or making videos about their favorite race horses. You have a responsibility to this sport. You can shun the fans and allow racing to remain in the shadows, where it will wither and die without the exposure it needs, or you can promote it, be a good ambassador, and let people see how truly great it can be. And you don’t have to own a Rachel or Zenyatta for people to care about following your horse—fans will care, you just have to let them.
Dear Call to the Post Readers,
This weekly column has existed at Smile Politely one month shy of four years, and I have enjoyed sharing this new golden age of racing with you. Thanks to Big Brown, Curlin, Rachel, and Zenyatta, I was given more material to write about than I could’ve hoped for; I really could not have planned a better time to begin writing about racing.
With respect, Smile Politely has opted to discontinue this column because it does not focus on local issues, so this will be the last article of the Call to the Post in this magazine. For complete racing coverage, please head over to DRF.com, Thoroughbredtimes.com, Bloodhorse.com, and NTRA.com. I will periodically update my horse racing blog, Ghostsnapper, so keep an eye on it for stories about my experiences at the track.
I truly appreciate everyone who ever read or commented on my column. My hope is that I was able to spark an interest in racing for people who may not have otherwise followed the sport. If any of my words convinced you to turn on the television to catch a race, take a trip to the track, or do some racing research of your own, then I did my job.
I leave with you this parting thought: make it your goal in life to go to the Kentucky Derby or the Breeders’ Cup—experiencing the height of this sport first-hand is the only way to appreciate it to the fullest.
May the Horse be With You,