On December 6, 2010, I left work early. I didn’t want to get stuck in rush hour traffic on my way to see her in person. It was early pre-winter dark as I slotted myself in three-deep outside the back walking ring at Keeneland, sapphire-cased Lumix in hand, determined not to miss a moment. One among a crowd of fans (fanatics?), I waited more than an hour in the frigid cold for my chance to see her with my own eyes. The freezing air drained my camera batteries and I had to remind myself repeatedly that even if I didn’t get a single frame of footage, I was there to experience her. Remember this moment.
At last, she arrived. Her dapples shone under the walking ring lights. She danced for us, her signature moves a delight. Her graceful legs cut through the fog of her breath as she bowed her head and showed us what we all came to see: the magic of Zenyatta.
Though we’d followed her career religiously, many if not most of us had never had the chance to see her in person. From 2007 through 2010, Zenyatta made 17 of her 20 career starts in California. Her only start in Kentucky came just a month prior in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs, 75 miles northwest of Lexington.
Zenyatta captured the hearts and hopes of racing fans across the country during her career on the track, during which time she won four Eclipse Awards and 17 graded stakes and earned more than $7,000,000. But it wasn’t the accolades that enthralled us. It was her heart and her tenacity. It was her presence and her accessibility to the public. (And yes, it was her dance moves.)
And now, she had returned to the heart of the bluegrass where she was born, to start the next phase of her career. We hoped her connections would continue to give us unprecedented access to her daily life. We hoped she would pass her greatness to her offspring. We hoped for her continued success, because we loved her, and she was ours.
It is due in large part to her connections’ commitment to making their superstar available to her fans that Zenyatta has maintained an active and enthusiastic fan base more than 12 years after her final career start. I visited her website compulsively, checking for updates on her life as a broodmare. In February and March of 2012, I agonized over the wait for Zenyatta’s first foal as though it was my own mare on foal watch. And I was not alone, not by a longshot.
Fast forward to 2023.
On June 9, the industry celebrated the 50th anniversary of Secretariat’s astonishing 31-length victory in the 1973 Belmont Stakes, in which he set a track record of 2:24.000 which still stands half a century later. On June 10, we celebrated again, this time as Jena Antonucci-trained Arcangelo became the first horse trained by a woman to win a Triple Crown race when he slipped through on the rail around the final turn and pulled away to win the Belmont by 1 ½ lengths.
And in the hours in between, this spark: at 9:18 pm on the evening of June 9, Zenyatta delivered her seventh foal, a dark bay or brown filly by War Front. The new arrival was featured on the mare’s blog on Saturday morning, along with a handful of photos and the news that the filly would be Zenyatta’s last. The announcement that Zenyatta had been “pensioned” - retired from broodmare duties - was met with mixed emotions. As always, Zenyatta’s dedicated fans want what’s best for the mare. But we’re also still desperately waiting, hoping, praying that Zenyatta will pass her talent on to the next generation.
That simply hasn’t happened yet… on the racetrack, at least. (But I’d argue each of her offspring shine exactly as they are meant to, even if it wasn’t exactly by design.)
Zenyatta’s journey as a broodmare has not been without its challenges. She has struggled to maintain pregnancies. She’s lost two foals prior to their first birthdays. And she has yet to produce a winner. It is essential to remember, dear reader, that our purpose here is to educate and inform, not to foster speculation or double. Zenyatta has received exceptional care throughout her broodmare career, and only her personal care team possesses the complete details of her veterinary history and that of her offspring. Those details do not belong to the public, and they do not diminish the unwavering support she receives from Team Z or her fans.
Now, let’s remark on Queen Z’s remarkable produce record:
Cozmic One (Bernardini, 2012)
Zenyatta’s first foal was a dark bay or brown colt by Bernardini, Eclipse Champion 3-Year-Old Male and winner of the Preakness Stakes. Cozmic One - also known as “Coz” - reminded fans greatly of his dam, with his rich dark coloring, size, and presence on the track. Although Coz did not appear to have the same will to win as Zenyatta, finishing no better than fourth in five starts, he found his calling beyond the racetrack. Coz embarked on a second career as a show jumper and an ambassador for off-the-track Thoroughbreds. His journey captivated audiences during the Retired Racehorse Project demo and at Breyerfest, reminding us that success comes in various forms.
Ziconic (Tapit, 2013)
Zenyatta’s second foal, a chestnut colt by three-time champion sire Tapit, couldn’t have been more dissimilar from his older half-brother. While Coz was dark and rangy, Ziconic was compact and shone like copper. Ziconic raced 12 times, teasing his connections and fans alike with eight top-three finishes, but never reached the winner’s circle. It wasn’t until he was retired from racing that he showed his likeness to Cozmic One - Ziconic, too, is thriving as a show jumper in his second career!
“Z Princess” (War Front, 2014)
Zenyatta’s third foal and first filly, a bay daughter of War Front, was met with great enthusiasm - especially from her female fans - when she arrived in 2014. Tragically, the unregistered filly - affectionately known as “Z Princess” online - died in a freak paddock accident as a weanling.
2015: Zenyatta was given a year off and not bred for 2015.
Unnamed colt (War Front, 2016)
Zenyatta was sent to War Front again and produced a colt in 2016. That colt, a lovely dark bay with a blaze, died when he was just three days old due to complications of meconium aspiration syndrome. (Not unique to horses, meconium aspiration syndrome occurs when a newborn inhales meconium - its first bowel movement, formed from swallowed amniotic fluid, which may occur inside the birth canal - thereby limiting its ability to breathe efficiently. Learn more here.)
Zellda (Medaglia d’Oro, 2017)
Zenyatta produced her fifth foal, a filly by Medaglia d’Oro, in 2017. While Zellda had 18 public works between November of 2019 and July 2020, she was ultimately retired unraced. Zellda produced her first foal, a colt by Twirling Candy, earlier this year on April 27. Though Zellda did not start, there remains hope that she will play a part in the legacy of her Hall of Fame dam through her own foals. Some racehorses ultimately come to be known for the offspring of their daughters… including the great Secretariat! In his case, he was a solid sire, though his record at stud did not lead to long-term commercial success. But time has told the tale of his greatness in an unanticipated way: as of June 1 of this year, six of the top 10 places on the North American general sire earnings list can be traced back to Secretariat… through the offspring of his daughters!
2018: Zenyatta aborted a foal by leading sire Into Mischief in 2018 due to low-grade placentitis which triggered premature placental separation.
2019: Zenyatta was given a year off and not bred for 2019.
Zilkha (Candy Ride-ARG, 2020)
Zenyatta’s current three-year-old is a filly by Candy Ride (ARG) named Zilka. Although she has not yet started, Zilkha is in training in California and has five published works, with her most recent coming at Santa Anita on April 2 of this year.
2021: Zenyatta aborted a foal by Candy Ride (ARG). Team Z did not release any additional details to the public.
2022: Zenyatta was given a year off and not bred for 2022.
Nymue (War Front, 2023)
Zenyatta’s seventh foal and her last is her June 9 War Front filly, a full sister to her ill-fated siblings who carries the hopes of all three, as well as of all Zenyatta’s connections and fans, on her sturdy little shoulders.
I, for one, cannot wait to watch her grow up.
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Kyle Rothfus (aka Kyle the OTTB Mare Guy)