Trevor Denman tried to root Zenyatta home
It wasn’t neutral, it wasn’t unbiased, it wasn’t an unemotional accounting of what was happening at Churchill Downs last Saturday.
“Blame is on the inside, Zenyatta on the outside. Blame. Zenyatta. Zen-Yat-Ta. ZEN-YAT-TA. Zenyatta is flying, Blame and Zen-Yat-Ta and Blame has won it by a head. Zenyatta has run her heart out and had to settle for second.”
No, Trevor Denman’s call of last Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Classic wasn’t neutral. It was from the heart and it was perfect for the moment. And if anyone felt otherwise? That’s OK by Denman.
“In only two races in my history have I been blatantly biased,” Denman said Tuesday from his farm in Minnesota. "[ Bill] Shoemaker’s last ride, in that race I said, ‘Come on Shoe,’ because I wanted him to win so bad, he ran fourth but at the eighth pole he could have won it and, literally, I said, ‘Come on Shoe,’ and then Saturday. I wanted so badly for Zenyatta to win.
“You have to have sagacity and say, ‘This occasion is different and I have to be different.’ I have to admit, I almost said, ‘Come on,’ right before Blame and Zenyatta hit the wire. I think you can hear exasperation in my voice, at the end. I was deflated when I said, ‘Blame has won it.’ ”
Besides the emotions of the day, Denman, who is the race caller at Santa Anita, said logistically it was a hard event to call.
“It was an announcer’s nightmare,” Denman said. “It was at the worst time of day, not sunshine and not dark. They ran the race at dusk, the sun had just set, the lights were not good.”
Yet Denman’s eyes picked up nuances.
“I was able to get a good look at Mike Smith,” Denman said, referring to Zenyatta’s jockey. “And I could see he wasn’t happy by looking at his wrists,” which were shaking from the effort to control the reins.
“Then all of a sudden I could see Zenyatta’s ears were twitching as if she had been given a command. Normally her ears were pricked forward but they started twitching and it was as if she was thinking, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, this is it.”
As Zenyatta began making up ground and as the crowd began to roar, Denman said he felt as if his body was part of the race. “I guess I was leaning so far to my right, trying to urge her on, that people were afraid I’d fall out of the booth,” he said.
Denman said he had nothing pre-planned for his dramatic call. “Really, for something like this, you cannot prepare,” he said. “If you do, invariably it never works out.”
And the 58-year-old South African native who has called races in the United States since 1983 said he was apprehensive all day.
“It was stressful,” Denman said. “You just knew it would be a seminal race, not only for Zenyatta but for the sport. It would be a race people would talk about for decades. I felt I hadn’t been under this much stress for a very long time. I mean this was a horse who had been featured on ' Oprah Winfrey,’ been done on ’60 Minutes,’ who was known around the world.”
The race is still being talked about and Denman is aware that not only race fans but sports fans have watched and re-watched his call.
“Ultimately I’m pleased with it,” he said. “I hope I imparted the emotions of the day. It wasn’t a day to be impartial. That wasn’t in my heart at that moment.”