The second-most-notable female athlete of 2009 according to the Associated Press was the first female to win one of the most celebrated contests in her sport and has a perfect record, winning all 14 of her major competitions.
She is also the youngest woman to receive the honor, and at five years of age has accomplished all that she ever will in her sport and so has gone off to retirement.
Isn’t she pretty?
Right. She’s a horse.
Zenyatta, the first female horse to win the Breeder’s Cup championship, came in second on the yearly list of 2009’s most accomplished female athletes.
She. is. a. horse.
First? Tennis star Serena Williams, who made headlines herself this year on the court not just for fantastic tennis but for saying she was going to kill a line judge. 7th? Another horse, Rachel Alexandra, who won the Preakness Stakes. The list is curiously not available in its entirety online, but other athletes who are not horses on the list include tennis player Kim Clijsters in third, Lindsey Vonn, who won her second consecutive title in Alpine skiing’s World Cup, in fourth place and Diana Taurasi, the WNBA’s MVP in fifth.
Look, I don’t know what’s going on over there at the Associated Press. I don’t know when an animal, who is trained and ridden by a male jockey to meet the challenge of being the fastest competitor in a race, became a true contender for a ranking like this.
And I like animals, enough to be concerned about the treatment of horses in racing situations, which is another post entirely (along with a post about how Serena Williams threatening to kill a line judge did not disqualify her from the A.P. honor either.) In fact, I like some animals better than many humans. That does not mean, however, that I believe animals should be rated on the same scale with people in terms of accomplishments generally reserved for, again, people.
How does Clijsters feel about coming in just behind Zenyatta? How do you compete with a person who’s not a person?
Some message boards are delighting in making jokes about Serena’s appearance and other references to women as horses, to which I can only say “nice, really nice.” One comment bemoaned the possibility of “feminists” getting upset because two horses took the place of two accomplished female athletes on a list of the best female athletes of the year.
This is in many glaring ways missing the point. Identified as feminist or not, it’s quite possible to find the inclusion of horses on this list odd if you consider that every other person on this list since it has been made has been, in fact, a person. And really, if it’s feminist to say that there is some commentary inherent in the inclusion of two animals on a list of the ten best female anything in a field where women are historically underrepresented and under-covered by the very media that made this list?
So be it.
And I’m even willing to take it a step beyond and say that no male racehorse – not Seabiscuit, not Secretariat, not Seattle Slew, not Spectacular Bid nor any other horse starting with an S that will help you win at Scattergories – has ever placed on the companion list of top ten male athletes, although Secretariat was ranked 81st on the A.P.’s list of top athletes of the 20th century.
Why now? Why two?
Mind you, Zenyatta’s jockey, Mike Smith, describes her in distinctly anthropomorphic terms:
What she’s done on the racetrack has proven how special she is. I’ve never been on something like this. It just doesn’t seem real. Whatever is in front of her, she seems to pass and do it with incredible ease, and in doing it, she has this personality…I think the fans appreciate the show she puts on. She’s so dramatic. She seems to give everyone a head start. She’s always come from last. And she’s been unbeaten coming from last. Do you know how hard that is passing every horse without getting stopped? She overcomes everything and does it with such grace and ease that it’s incredible.
And this all may be true, but she doesn’t do it without a lot of help from him. In fact, without him, she couldn’t do it at all.
Zenyatta is retired in Kentucky and as such could not be reached for comment.
Photo credit: Delmarscene.com