Because it is the swan song of many talented racehorses, the Breeders' Cup is always a tad bittersweet.
Instead of being the stars that drive the sport, these horses return to, well, being horses. With that in mind, I set off this past month to visit some Breeders' Cup champions who have recently settled down in the Bluegrass for a quieter way of life.
I figured I might as well start at the top by paying a visit to 2010 horse of the year Zenyatta at Lane's End Farm. Because of the mare's extremely large fan following, Zenyatta's retirement story is a bit different than normal.
Her connections maintain a diary written from the mare's point of view that provides updates, and she still makes plenty of appearances in the pages of the trade publications. Although most retired mares quietly begin their new careers unobserved, Zenyatta remains in the public eye.
I had not seen Zenyatta since she was paraded at Keeneland in December, but as expected, everything I had read about her between that time and now was very much true. She loves people, appreciates the occasional treat and is sporting a rounded belly that is the result of her mating with Bernardini.
Because of a scheduling fluke, earlier that day I checked in on her old foe, Blame, at Claiborne Farm. As he was on the track, Blame is a handsome, kind and willing horse.
Claiborne offers frequent tours for fans, and Blame's disposition has served him well when the occasional visitor declines to see him because he defeated Zenyatta. According to his groom, usually Blame ends up winning them over. After all, giving a horse a pat and feeding him a treat can go a long way when it comes to mending fences.
As fun as it was to visit with Zenyatta and Blame, I also wanted to check in on some other Breeders' Cup champions, ones who don't necessarily get as much black type as they used to.
At the top of my list was a stop at Stone Farm in Paris, Ky., to visit two other lovely mares who have something in common with Zenyatta. Fellow Breeders' Cup champions Forever Together and Informed Decision were also retired last year after failing to score another victory in their respective divisions.
Although she raced competitively through 2010, Forever Together is best known for winning the 2008 Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf and subsequently the Eclipse Award for champion turf mare.
This means she holds the distinction of being the only turf mare to defeat Goldikova at the Eclipse Award ballot box since the European champion began her reign of terror on the Breeders' Cup Mile.
Among her multiple Grade 1 victories, Informed Decision won the 2009 Filly and Mare Sprint and was named that year's champion female sprinter.
While they may have had completely different running styles, Forever Together and Informed Decision were always a bit of a package deal for me on the racetrack. Both are gray, and both were trained by Jonathan Sheppard and owned by George Strawbridge.
One of the realities of the racetrack is when horses are retired, they leave the people and environments they know behind. However, although the serene beauty of farm life is a far cry from the busyness of a racetrack's backstretch, one thing remains the same: Forever Together and Informed Decision are a package deal.
Although retired, the gray ladies spend their days together and are turned out in the same field. Forever Together was bred to Smart Strike, while Informed Decision was sent to Street Cry.
When I visited, they recently had been introduced into the larger herd of mares with whom they will spend their pregnancies.
Now that they are back to living by Mother Nature's rules, the fact they have two Eclipse Awards and more than $5 million in earnings between them matters very little. The other mares don't care what kind of résumés the newcomers sport, especially the alpha mare.
In this particular herd, Ruthian calls the shots. A solid runner in her own right, Ruthian is best known as the dam of Grade 1 winner Rutherienne. She is also very much the boss and was not pleased we were paying attention to the two gray upstarts in her field and not her.
Herd dynamics are fascinating, and it was nice to see Forever Together and Informed Decision happy and healthy. In time, the pecking order will solidify, and the mares will spend their days grazing on some of the finest acres in the Bluegrass while waiting to become mothers.
Although I came bearing peppermint treats for these fine runners, it appears they come from a more organic background. Neither Forever Together nor Informed Decision showed any interest in my sugary offerings. Perhaps carrots or apples would have been better received.
However, one fellow who is very aware of what the crinkle of a peppermint wrapper means is a Breeders' Cup champ whose story is slightly different than the others I visited.
Elmhurst did not retire after competing in last year's Breeders' Cup. Instead the handsome 21-year-old Wild Again gelding's glory days are far behind him, but you wouldn't know it looking at him.
The 1997 Breeders' Cup Sprint victor made headlines for the first time in years when it was announced he was leaving California to relocate to Our Mims Retirement Haven this year. His new home is no coincidence, as he is the grandson of Our Mims, the racehorse for whom the Paris, Ky., sanctuary is named.
After posing for pictures and being rewarded with his fill of peppermints, Elmhurst was turned out with his field of mares. Talent seems to recognize talent, and he grazed side by side with Grade 1 winner Lotka, who took the 1986 Acorn Stakes.
Time marches on, but there is something deeply fulfilling knowing a horse you followed on the racetrack has returned to a quieter life. These wonderful athletes provided a lot of thrills and are justly enjoying their retirements.
Amanda Duckworth is a freelance journalist who lives in Lexington, Ky. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.