Horse racing has its own little March Madness thing going. No brackets. Just a baby.
There is lead-up buzz for the April 7 Santa Anita Derby. Same thing for the March 31 Dubai Classic, and its $10-million purse. Of course, there is the biggest deal of all in the sport, the revered first-Saturday-in-May Kentucky Derby.
But, arguably, none of those have rung the chimes of fans as much as the birth of Zenyatta's first baby a week ago.
Little Zennie, a colt, arrived in Kentucky weighing 130 pounds and celebrated all over the country. He had polka dots on his feet like his mom and a white star on his forehead. His mom's white spot is bigger and longer.
Mother and son are doing well and racing fans are going goofy.
Which is nice for a change, in a sport that operates with a million individual agendas and thinks a show of togetherness is a cocktail party at the Breeders' Cup. Inexplicably, racing seemed to celebrate a TV series called "Luck," which glamorizes felons, sicko gamblers and shifty trainers. One scene showed a horse breaking a leg and being put down, big needle and all. It must be the just-spell-my-name-right syndrome.
The end is in sight there. Wednesday, in the wake of a third horse's dying during filming, and probably the generally lousy ratings, the second season of "Luck" was canceled. Good riddance.
Zenyatta was the Seabiscuit of her time. She won 19 of 20 races, each time spotting the field 12 to 15 lengths and then slingshotting past everybody. She even had the guys betting the exotics who huddle under TV sets and never venture into the sunshine on their feet, outside and screaming.
Hall-of-Fame trainer Bob Baffert once said, "The minute Zenyatta passes my horse, I start rooting for her."
When the grand lady's final stretch run failed by about three inches in her last race in 2010 — the same $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic in which she had made history the year before by beating all the male horses for the first time in history in that race — the reaction in the stands that night at Churchill Downs was collective gloom.
It seemed like an ending. Now, she has given racing a new beginning.
The new colt is yet to be named. Dottie Ingordo, stable manager for owners Jerry and Ann Moss, said that there is much huddling and discussion on that.
"The name is very important, very special to the Mosses," Ingordo said. "We are all working hard on that."
We will help. Until he gets his official tag, we'll just call him Zensational.
The daddy is Bernardini, winner of the 2006 Preakness on one of the saddest days in the sport's history. That day, at Pimlico in Baltimore, all attention stayed on a broken-down Kentucky Derby winner, Barbaro, while Bernardini got the blanket with the black-eyed susans.
When word circulated that the birth of the Bernardini-Zenyatta baby was imminent, the fan base that has never stopped being gaga about Zenyatta geared up. Quickly, Zenyatta's website, where daily entries were posted in Zenyatta first person, locked up.
"People were calling friends, saying they were out to dinner without their iPads," Ingordo said, "and asking them to keep checking and call if the baby was born."
Zensational arrived and the website was locked up again.
The chatter gushed. He was born at 10:10 p.m. on Thursday, March 8. Messages saw that as "a perfect 10." Six babies were born that day, Zenyatta's the last. No upstaging the queen, the chatter said. Even the professional writers romanticized. Wrote Eclipse Award-winning Claire Novak: "He was born as a full moon shone over the bluegrass.…"
Santa Anita, knowing a good promotion when it sees one, is hosting an "equine baby shower." Everybody buying a ticket to Saturday's races will get a poster that says: "It's a Boy." An autogaph session will include Ann and Jerry Moss; Ingordo and husband John Shirreffs, who trained Zenyatta to her near-perfection; and jockey Mike Smith, who rode her for all but three of her races.
The feature race of the day will be the Grade I Santa Margarita Stakes. Guess who won that one in 2010?
Who knows? Little Zensational might turn out to be truly sensational. There won't be the usual pressure facing the progeny of stars. This isn't like the children of Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf, walking on the court for their first high school tennis match. Mom and Dad can steer them, and probably will, to other things that will be their own, not new chapters in their parents' legacy.
Zensational was bred to run, and mom and dad certainly could.
The best news is that he will undoubtedly end up in the care of the man who brought Zenyatta along slowly, never rushed, never prodded, never took a chance with her health or raced her when everything wasn't right.
Asked if he knew whether he would be given the training duties for Zenyatta's firstborn when the time comes, Shirreffs responded in his usual leave-me-out-of-the-spotlight way.
"I'm still here," he said.