Clear, concise, comprehensive horseracing analysis and insight from Paul Jones, former author of the Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide, concentrating on jump racing in addition to the best of the Flat and leading Sports events.
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Foo Chin Chin's Quest For Stardom

September 30th

This afternoon I shall be mainly lounging about a spa with herbal tea and fruit and reading Paul Ferguson’s Jumpers To Follow 2015-2016 and I will post a review later in the week in the blog. Suppose I better use the gym whilst I am there. Latest uploads in the last couple of days available to view for All-Inclusive members are a couple of horses in Horses To Follow, my Presidents Cup golf preview in Sport plus French Imports by Alan Potts, a Political Betting article by Adam Hewson and an excerpt from Matt Tombs' new book, The Road To Chetenham, in Guest Contributions.

Tomorrow is the opening entry date for the Martin Wills Writing Awards. The trust commemorates Martin Wills who was an amateur jockey and journalist who died in a fall in 1992 and the awards are now in their 24th year and in four categories for aged under 26, 18, 15 and 12 and the maximum word counts is 1000 for under 26s down to 500 for under 12s. Judges include Brough Scott, Chris Cook and Lee Mottershead. I would urge you to read some of the winners’ articles from the past by visiting

As a 23-year-old I entered back in 1993 and was shortlisted but got no further than that with my short story called ‘Foo Chin Chin’s Quest For Stardom’, a tale of a Chinese horse attempting to win the Arc but he refused to budge from the airport concourse in Paris. I don’t know what kind of drugs I was on but I can assure you that it was a classic. Anyway, I received a nice letter back saying that they enjoyed at least one entry with humour. I'm not sure it was meant to be humourous. Some chap called Chris McGrath won it beating Donn McClean into second. I wonder what became of those!?

Talking of McGrath, a subsequent Horserace Writers’ Journalist of the Year if ypu weren’t aware and, with the Breeders’ Cup on the horizon again, that gives me the perfect excuse to revisit his article on Zenyatta’s defeat in the Classic in 2010 which I can say is the finest horseracing article I have ever read. Please judge for yourself below:

“You are pretty hard to please if you treat one of the greatest races of all time as an anti-climax. Freeze the moment, deep into that final, shuddering effort. The moment when it became obvious to the fans, screaming and shaking as they were, that a physical capacity consummating generations of horse lore – the giant, sprawling stride of Zenyatta – would reach the end of the spool either one step before the winning post, or one step beyond.

This was what they had really come for, this fleeting, exquisite agony. Not for the winning line itself, with its coarse release from uncertainty. There will always be a pay-off, one way or another, in the Breeders' Cup Classic or the seller at Wolverhampton today. But it was these searing spasms of hope and dread that flavoured the moment with eternity. Whatever happened now, whatever the different spans of the 72,739 lives that briefly converged at Churchill Downs on Saturday, for a moment at least they all knew themselves gloriously, enviably alive. As an immaculate autumn sky bled away, the dusk air cold but electric, here was the race of a lifetime.

Unbeaten in 19 starts, Zenyatta had prompted the publicists to bill her toughest assignment (and almost certainly her last) as "the quest for perfection". Her failure to catch Blame, however, did not so much diminish the legend as complete it. It was the flaw deliberately sewn into a Persian carpet, by the weaver whose skills might otherwise seem so divine as to contain intimations of blasphemy. In taking her theatrical running style to insuperable extremes – detached by some eight lengths at the first bend – she showed how miraculous it was, that she had never previously left it too late.

Perfection, after all, has no earthly use. You cannot conquer flaws if you have none. That's why, in messianic tradition, the divine becomes mortal. What was unquestionably Zenyatta's most celestial performance was also the one that introduced her to failure. Last year, when she won this race on home territory, in California, Mike Smith had said that his mount was "sent by God". On Saturday, the poor man sobbed uncontrollably as he reproached himself for what felt not so much a defeat as a desecration. Even the name of the colt who beat her, Blame, seemed to mock him. But he should comfort himself that those who now think less of Zenyatta could never have loved her properly.

It was not the jockey's fault, anyway. After plying her trade largely on synthetic tracks in California, Zenyatta was having dirt kicked into her face for the first time – her previous experience of the surface had been in small fields – and she plainly considered the novelty an unpleasant one. Admittedly, she had also lacked focus in the early stages at Santa Anita last year, but this time she reached the first bend so far behind that she instead seemed to be reprising the ludicrous race that undid so much good work in the final reel of the Seabiscuit movie. Smith was certainly not complacent, urging her forward, but those whose attention had been seduced by prime-time, mainstream curiosity in Zenyatta must have felt that they had been sold a pup. At that stage, she was 30 lengths behind the tearaways up front.

She had certainly matched her billing in the preliminaries. Stimulated by a frenzy of cheering and flashbulbs, her familiar habit of prancing and pawing obtained a frenetic, nervous quality. Zenyatta could tell something was up, big time. She danced and skittered every step of the way, as she was led from the barns on the back stretch, past the stands, through the tunnel into the paddock. And it was this theatricality that was her undoing, so distracted was she early on.

As it was, her improbable surge down the stretch was only foiled because she had to drop gear switching for a run. Blame hung tough, holding out by a head, the pair clear. For the first and only time, Zenyatta would be ushered away with the other beaten horses, their heads bowed, flanks heaving. Blame's rider, Garrett Gomez, demonstratively saluted her as she was led past him, but that was not enough to stifle some childish boos as he proceeded to the winner's circle.

Smith bravely consented to a press conference only minutes later but could not suppress his grief. After decorously complimenting Blame, he faltered and then broke down as he reiterated that Zenyatta should have won. "She's my everything," he said. "It hurts more than I can explain, just because it was my fault. I believe she ranks up there with the greatest of all time. If I'd have won this, you could arguably say she was. To come up a nose short is just - it's too hard."

The thought irresistibly suggests itself that Zenyatta's first mating, once retired, should be with Blame himself. With her giant physique and extrovert character, she founded her career in the egotism of a herd leader, and submission to her only conqueror would be a corollary approved by Nature. More of a gentleman, perhaps, is Gio Ponti, who followed her home last year and this time escorted another great mare to an unprecedented third Breeders' Cup success in the Mile.

For the European raiders were yet again indebted to Goldikova, their only other winner being Dangerous Midge, who gamely exploited Workforce's defection from the Turf. Whether the French mare might stay in training remains to be seen, but she certainly looks better than ever, her acceleration this time seeming almost mechanical. It did not take long, however, for everyone to be reminded that brilliance is never routine.

Goldikova has been beaten six times in 21 starts, but it is Zenyatta who has always offered the greater sense of the hazards that accompany a mighty, independent, female spirit. After she flashed through the photo-finish beam with Blame, palpably inches too short, a shivering, crepuscular silence suddenly suffused the inflamed atmosphere. Night was stealing across the huddled knolls and woodland beyond, enveloping ochre, gold and russet in the same gloom. We knew, now, that she was not invincible. She was better than that.”


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