Owner Jerry Moss didn't even want to think about it, the possibility that for a third straight season a horse other than his champion mare Zen yatta would win Thoroughbred racing's top honor.
He and his wife, Ann, had digested the disappointment of losing Horse of the Year to Curlin in 2008. And last year, the Mosses swallowed perhaps their most bitter pill when star filly Rachel Alexandra won despite Zenyatta's historic victory in the 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic.
"I try not to think about losing ever. I'm always thinking about winning," Moss said last week.
On Monday night, the only thing the Mosses had to ponder was how to best express their gratitude now that their brilliant mare finally had it all.
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The one thing missing from Zenyatta's résumé was added during the 40th annual Eclipse Awards when she beat out Blame, her Breeders' Cup Classic conqueror last year, to earn 2010 Horse of the Year honors.
Although Blame bested Zen yatta by a head in the Classic at Churchill Downs, the first loss in 20 career starts for the daughter of Street Cry, respect for the beloved mare only seemed to grow in the wake of her gallant defeat.
When the final numbers were revealed Monday, it was apparent that Zenyatta's five Grade I wins in 2010 and the sentiment that built during her 19-race win streak were enough to make her the 11th female runner to be named Horse of the Year. She garnered 128 votes to Blame's 102.
Three-time Breeders' Cup Mile winner Goldikova was the other finalist for Horse of the Year, earning five first-place votes.
"Just overwhelming," Jerry Moss said after picking up the gold trophy. "It's just amazing. I want to first say what a great honor it is to be associated with the other two finalists. Blame ran an incredible race.
"We believed in her," he said of Zenyatta. "She's one in a million. We can't wait to tell her."
Career perfection might have eluded her, but one narrow blemish hardly took the luster off of what Zenyatta accomplished last season.
Although an anticipated match-up with Rachel Alexandra never materialized, Zenyatta went about the business of winning races at a historic rate. After opening her campaign as a 6-year-old with a triumph in the Grade I Santa Margarita Handicap, Zenyatta shipped to Oaklawn for what was her second career start on the dirt. She toyed with her foes in the Grade I Apple Blossom.
Her patented late-running style created its share of anxiety, but it almost never let Zenyatta and her connections down.
When she followed up her wins in the Grade I Vanity and Clement L. Hirsch with a half-length triumph in the Grade I Lady's Secret, she equaled Peppers Pride for the longest winning streak in modern North American history.
"I believe that quite honestly Zenyatta will go down as maybe perhaps the greatest mare in racing history," Moss said last week. "And I think her record of 19 straight wins without a loss is gowing to be hard to topple, so to speak.
"I invite anybody to try. It's a tremendous accomplishment to keep a horse in training for three years and to have her win every race and the way she ran every race. So I think people will be talking about her for a long time to come."
Zenyatta and Blame also earned divisional honors for champion older female and champion older male, respectively. It was the third straight Eclipse Award in that category for Zenyatta.
"We always hoped" for Horse of the Year, Ann Moss said. "We hoped the years before, and it's a wonderful thing because she does lift spirits and fill hearts with joy."
Zenyatta has been retired to Lane's End Farm in Versailles and soon will start her career as a broodmare.