LOS ANGELES -- This is Zenyatta's weekend. She is the belle of the ball.
People who, a month ago, didn't know she existed know now. Sports Illustrated recently told her life story, from baby skin rash to afternoon Guinness. Sunday night, she got a spot on "60 Minutes," where they just couldn't resist the line "There's something Zen about Zenyatta."
This weekend's Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs has 14 huge horse races. The 13 preceding Zenyatta's run in the $5 million Classic, each with a rich purse and featuring the finest thoroughbreds in the world in their respective divisions, might as well be off-Broadway plays. At 6:45 Eastern time on Saturday, they will pull back the curtains for the real show. Zenyatta is "A Chorus Line."
Like many leading ladies, she will make somewhat of a late entrance at the home of the Kentucky Derby. She'll be up at the crack of dawn Tuesday to make her flight to Louisville. She will be up in first class and won't have to take her shoes off going through security. On the same flight will be one of her closest challengers, this year's Preakness winner, Lookin At Lucky. Expect a stare-down.
Monday morning, Zenyatta had her game face on. All dressed up in blue leggings with white stripes, she walked her path near her barn at Hollywood Park, then jogged a mile or so on the dirt training track. When she walked, her tongue hung loosely from her mouth, a la Michael Jordan. All these years, have we missed this simple sign of athletic superiority?
There were still a few cameras left for which to stop and pose, still a few fans wanting a peek at a legend. But time for work is fast approaching. The next wave of idolatry can wait for the winner's circle under the Twin Spires on Saturday.
Every tidbit of information, every detail about the marvelous mare with the 19-0 record, has become both interesting and further testimonial to how her star has somehow risen as quickly as the fortunes of her sport have declined. Hollywood Park held the recent Oak Tree meeting when owner Frank Stronach of Santa Anita kicked out the not-for-profit group for reasons still unclear to the rational mind.
During the Oak Tree meeting, Inglewood remained quite safe from traffic jams, except the one day when Zenyatta raced. Then, more than 27,000 showed and the venerable old place rocked as if it was the 1970s and '80s.
But she wasn't just queen for a day.
The lead-up to the Breeders' Cup, presumably her last race, has made her morning workouts a bigger topic than the afternoon and evening races. Her last time out for serious work, there were hundreds scattered on both sides of the massive track. Pre-Zenyatta, these sessions were the domain strictly of men in jeans and boots, holding stopwatches and being paid to be there. Zenyatta made it into a tourist stop.
For two weeks, the Breeders' Cup staff has flooded the Internet with breathless updates.
"Zenyatta slept in an extra three minutes today."
"Zenyatta ate grass for five minutes, rather than her usual seven."
Her trainer, John Shirreffs, whose perspective has remained remarkable, is mostly amused.
"Reporters call me up and ask what she did today," Shirreffs says. "I say she jogged. Then they write that."
Zenyatta has made all the little things big.
Steve Willard, her exercise rider, says he went to buy shoes at REI the other day and somebody recognized him. His eyes get wide. "Can you believe that?" he says. "They recognized her exercise rider."
Ellen Alperstein, who writes essays for the L.A. Observed blog, went to Hollywood Park, petted Zenyatta's nose, wrote that she was "smitten" and added that Zenyatta "even snorts pretty."
The "60 Minutes" show, in a usual TV attempt to portray Zenyatta as its discovery, dug deep for the real story. Under pressure, Shirreffs admitted that he had tried lesser brands of beer for Zenyatta's early afternoon cocktail, but that the lady is a fussy champ.
"It's gotta be the stout," Shirreffs said.
Next, they broke down Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who has guided her to her last 16 victories. The line of questioning was Zenyatta's future sex life. The camera zoomed in, hoping to find beads of sweat on Smith's forehead. It was a pressure cooker, interrogation on network television.
A cornered Smith, as he often did when riding Zenyatta, looked for a hole to open. Just as he had every time he needed to, he made one.
Whom would he breed to Zenyatta?
"Nobody's worthy," he said.
By Saturday, the World Series will be over. By 6:45 p.m. Eastern, a big chunk of college football will have ended. Presumably, stories about Brett Favre's stitches, fractures, texts, starting status for the next game, consecutive-starts record and late-game completions to the other team's defensive backs will have driven viewers to look elsewhere.
It will be Zenyatta's time, her stage. Expect quite a performance.