The Best One-Loss Season Debate… Zenyatta, By A Nose For Once

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

Let me start by extending my gratitude and stating how much I appreciate the esteemed editorial board of this fine website for accepting a debate involving the sport of kings. Now that one of the contributors to this website lives in Kentucky, I figure that one horse racing debate a year is not too much to ask. After all, we gave the rest of the country bourbon – don’t we deserve at least one debate? (Editor’s Note: Bourbon is delicious. No debate there.)

Now that we’ve established the credentials of this debate, let’s get to the meat of it. Zenyatta finished her racing career with a 19-1 record. Her lost loss came in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic, the richest North American horse race. She lost by a nose to a horse called Blame. Blame called Churchill Downs home, and defeated Zenyatta by a nose there.

The Patriots, as we all know, lost to the New York Giants in a stunning upset in the 2008 Super Bowl (representing the 2007 season). The question we’re debating here is “which season was better?”

I’m not sure that anyone can deny that the 2007 Patriots were a steamroller of a football team. They dominated teams in a manner not seen since the 1985 Chicago Bears, and most of the sporting world expected a similar rollover in the Super Bowl. However, the Giants, clearly sick and tired of hearing that they were a speed bump on the way to history for the Pats, dominated the game on the defensive line and emerged victorious. Was the Pats’ season impressive? Absolutely. Was it better than Zenyatta’s one-loss record? No.

Zenyatta rose to fame as an unbeaten female race horse. While she rivaled the great unbeaten female race horses such as Personal Ensign and, arguably, Ruffian, she did not strike the national consciousness until she beat the best male race horses in the world in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic, in a thrilling victory. Her win was all over ESPN, and she became a rare thing in the horse racing world – a veritable superstar outside of the confines of the well-known Triple Crown races. The next year, 2010, became all about Zenyatta cementing her place in the pantheon of horse racing greatness. She raced through 2010 unbeaten until she lost to Blame by a nose (on his home track) in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

The question before us, though, is which season is better, more historic? The answer is clearly Zenyatta’s one-loss season.

Realistically, most of us look back on the 2007 Patriots and see a great football team, but not a football team that fundamentally altered the fanbase of a sport. On the other hand, Zenyatta fundamentally altered the future fanbase of an entire sport. Between her segments on 60 Minutes and her featured position on ESPN during the Breeders’s Cup week, she garnered sports press that equine athletes before her had not. If you question that, recognize the following statistic – the ratings for Zenyatta’s 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic were 180 percent higher than the previous year. The race pulled a 3.1 rating, which rivals many NASCAR telecasts. While many consider horse racing a niche sport, the fact that one horse could increase the ratings of a big race into NASCAR territory is hard to believe. Furthermore, watch the Youtube videos of the 2010 Classic. She made an emotional connection with many fans that I guarantee you the 2007 Patriots did not.

The fact of the matter is, both Zenyatta and the 2007 Patriots were phenomenal examples of excellence in their respective fields. However, when you question which one was better and more historic, the answer is simple. Zenyatta may have fundamentally altered the viewership and fanbase of an entire sport. The 2007 Patriots lost their fair-weather fans somewhere between the bean dip and the salsa.

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