Star mare Zenyatta arrived at Churchill Downs on Tuesday, with police cars and a helicopter escorting the convoy from the airport, presumably to fend off the horse paparazzi trying to get video of the horse lorry as it sped down the road. (Still no word as to whether Al Cowlings was driving the lorry, or whether OJ watched the procession unfold on TV and thought he was having a flashback.)
On Wednesday, the undefeated Breeders’ Cup Classic returning champion took her first trot on the course, with several hundred spectators and assorted media paying rapt attention. Nothing like a 19-0 record and a glowing tribute on 60 Minutes to propel horse racing back into the American consciousness. Well, that and the revelation that Zenyatta enjoys a daily pint of Guinness. Now if we can just get a picture of her lying on the sofa playing videogames, eating Cheetos and scratching herself, some party would presumably nominate her for president.
Churchill Downs is likely grateful for the distraction that Zenyatta is providing, as it takes some of the focus off the nearly $700k loss the company posted in the third quarter. Overall revenues were actually up an impressive 35% to $135.7m, largely due to the $25m contributed by recent acquisitions Youbet and United Tote. Continued difficulties at its core racing operations saw that division’s revenues fall another 9% to $62.4m, while online businesses and gaming contributed $38.7m and $28.3m respectively. The most significant drag on business was the shuttering of Churchill Downs Entertainment after July’s disastrous HullabaLOU Music Festival, which lost $5m. Hey, if they’re looking for entertainment that people will actually pay to see, perhaps they could teach Zenyatta how to pick out Camptown Races on some giant novelty-sized piano.