Retired racehorse Zenyatta enjoys new career as a mom

She peeks out of the specially cut V-shaped window and looks around. She's curious and besides, she would much rather be outside than in the 12-foot-by-12 room called home.

Her favorite things are kids, hers and others, and the visitors who adored her during a four-year racing career and now come from across the country to see her.

Zenyatta is loving life in her new career at Lane's End Farm in Versailles, Ky. This is her sixth year as a broodmare. She's delivered three foals with a fourth due shortly.

Her first ran two races with disappointing results. Her third, a weanling filly, died in a paddock accident. And, the middle child, Ziconic, has the weight of expectations on his shoulders as he prepares for his debut Saturday at Santa Anita.

Ziconic will be loaded into the five post in the third race undoubtedly at much lower odds than he should be just because he's Zenyatta's son. The mare's racing career, mostly in Southern California, was spectacular by any measuring stick. Zenyatta won 19 of 20 races, losing only her last one in the Breeders' Cup Classic. There is a statue of her near the fountain at Santa Anita.

"Zenyatta was something special," said Mike Smith, her jockey for 17 races. "She breathed different air. For someone to expect her babies to be like her, that's tough. You'd have to win a Triple Crown every year."

Cozmic One was the first of Zenyatta's foals, sired by Bernardini. He made his racing debut April 17 last year at Santa Anita. The track even had posters made of mom and son.

The betting opened at 1-to-9, odds as low as it gets. The thinking was that many fans just wanted a souvenir ticket with no intention of cashing. By post time he was the second favorite at 9-to-5.

He broke slowly in the field of six and dropped to the back, a running style championed by his mother. As the horses were coming around the final turn, track announcer Trevor Denman, more wishing than watching, made the call: "Cozmic One starting to wind up now, Cozmic One is rolling." The horse finished last.

The colt was shipped to Belmont in New York, and ran on July 8, finishing seventh in a nine-horse field. He never showed any kind of move.

John Shirreffs, the trainer of Zenyatta and all her offspring, says Cozmic One, known as Coz, was just too immature. He explained that horses, and most animals, are born with a fight or flight syndrome when the adrenaline kicks in. Coz is still trying to make the transition into listening to those around him rather than just pinning his ears back and saying no.

"He's the strongest horse I've ever been around in my life," Shirreffs said. "You have to do so much with him in the morning just to get him tired. If we didn't tire him he would just run around his stall all day."

Shirreffs has far from given up on him and is looking to place him in a longer race. "I think his story is still untold," Shirreffs said.

Jerry Moss, owner of Zenyatta and her foals, agrees.

"Sometimes the first foal takes a little longer [to develop]," Moss said. "Once he puts it all together, we'll have fun. We're not rushing him."

Ziconic, sired by Tapit, doesn't really look like his half-brother. He's chestnut, shorter and a bit stocky.

Hall of fame jockey Smith has been working with Ziconic but will not be aboard on Saturday, the result of a three-day suspension for interference. Another hall of famer, Gary Stevens, has picked up the mount.

"The fact that they [the jockeys] are friends is good," Moss said. "Mike will tell Gary everything he needs to know about the horse."

Smith has been around Ziconic a lot, starting when the colt was a weanling, and has seen him develop.

"He's a little fireball," Smith said. "He's really full of himself but he's come a long way. He's starting to figure things out."

Shirreffs says the horse has some speed, something you didn't find in Cozmic One.

"He's been training well and physically he looks really good," Shirreffs said. "But it's hard to say until they actually go out and do it in the afternoon."

Moss made his money in the record industry, he was co-founder of the A&M label with Herb Alpert. His expectations for the horse are less results-oriented.

"It's like another business," Moss said. "The first time an artist goes into a recording studio you really want them to have a great experience. A fun experience. What we want is for him to consider himself a race horse and want to go back to the track."

Z Princess, Zenyatta's third foal and sired by War Front, was 6 months old when she was euthanized after a farm accident. She was with other young horses playing and running around when one crashed into her and broke her back.

"You breed them to run and you want them to run around," said Todd Claunch, assistant farm manager at Lane's End. "But now when I see them running it makes me nervous. They are fast and fragile. She was really a special filly. I still have a hard time thinking about it."

What made the loss especially difficult was it was the first filly by Zenyatta. If ever that magic could be transferred down, wouldn't it be mother to daughter?

"Obviously, we're happy if the baby is healthy and well," Moss said. "But another filly would be ideal, since we lost one."

Moss is trying to do just that. Zenyatta, after taking a year off, is back in foal to War Front.

The breeding schedule of most mares is rigorous. The gestation period is 11 months, then the mare is generally bred again after 30 days. Meanwhile, the mare stays with her newborn for five months, meaning she will already be in foal to another sire while caring for the one just born.

Zenyatta seems to enjoy being a mom.

"She loves foals more than just about any mare I've ever been around," said Claunch, who has been around horses for 40 years. "When she's outside, all the other foals just come up to her, not just her own.… You can even see her going through the thought process of teaching them things."

Zenyatta also likes people, who invariably end up patting her. The Mosses keep tight control on who can see the mare but will occasionally raffle or auction off chances to meet her for charity.

Still, there is one person Zenyatta seems to like and remember more than any other, co-owner Ann Moss, Jerry's wife.

"She absolutely recognizes her," Claunch said. "Zenyatta comes running across the field as soon as she sees Mrs. Moss get out of the car."

Jerry and Ann will be back soon to see Zenyatta when she delivers her foal. They haven't missed one yet and have no plans to. More good parenting.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on February 20, 2016, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Racing darling adores kids - Zenyatta has enjoyed being a mom, and her foal Zionic will race at Santa Anita today." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe