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Zenyatta: The People’s Racehorse

Legendary racehorse Zenyatta spent most of her career based on the west coast, but she was a Kentucky-born filly and is retired here now as a broodmare at Lane’s End Farm in Versailles.

Zenyatta’s race record is undeniable. She won 19 consecutive races out of 20 starts spanning from 2007 to 2010. But fans were drawn to the mare for more than just her dominance on the track. The personable horse seemed to enjoy performing for the crowds, and her human connections were happy to share her with the fans.

“She does know she’s important,” says Charles Campbell, Broodmare Manager at Lane’s End Farm. “When she’s out in the field and anybody goes up the fence, Zenyatta will be the first to walk over. She knows exactly why they’re there: They’re there to see her. She walks over and she gives them her time, She puts her head down if there’s young people over there. She just has this special relationship with people.”

Thanks to the willingness of her owners, Jerry and Ann Moss, and her trainer, John Shirreffs, to allow the public to get close to her, Zenyatta became something of a rockstar in the racing world.

“[Fans] could come and watch her be hand grazed,” says Campbell. “They could touch her, they could pet her. Nobody was turned away. They embraced all these fans that wanted to see her and the energy that they were showing towards her. She really was sort of a people’s champion.”

“What she meant to the American public, the bond many people had with her, was almost spiritual,” says Steve Haskin, Senior Correspondent for Blood-Horse Publications. “She was an inspiration in ways never really before seen. Whatever mystical hold horses have over humans, it seemed to manifest itself in Zenyatta.”

That mystical connection drew more than 1,000 fans to Lexington’s Keeneland Racecourse on a bitterly cold December night in 2010, just to see the mare for a few minutes.

“When Zenyatta was to be retired to Lane’s End, the Mosses and Will and Bill Farish of Lane’s End Farm wanted to do something to provide her East Coast fans a way of saying goodbye as they sent her into retirement to be a broodmare,” says Amy Gregory, Director of Communications at Keeneland. “They contacted us about hosting a ceremony. We really had no idea what type of crowd it would get.”

By the time Zenyatta arrived at Keeneland, the crowd was estimated to be around 1,200 people

“It was amazing,” Gregory remembers. “The fans began arriving early in the afternoon. They were literally four people deep along the outside rail of the show ring. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. There were fans who had driven from New York and even Washington state. Everyone was so glad that she had come to Kentucky.”

Although she’s been retired from racing for several years, fans remain loyal to Zenyatta, calling Lane’s End to check up on her, sending cards, and following Team Zenyatta’s extensive social media presence.

“I think a lot of the reason she has such a strong fanbase is because what she represents,” says Campbell. “She was the ultimate athlete; the best ambassador for racing there’s been in a long time. Everything she did was positive: The way she ran; all the money she’s donated to charity. She’s a symbol of the good. I think that’s why everyone loves her.

“Even after being here for three years, you go out there in the mornings and you pat her and you just pinch yourself,” adds Campbell. “She still has that wow factor now.”

This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #1918, which originally aired on May 4, 2014. Watch the full episode.