A 129-pound impost wasn't enough to stop the undefeated champion Zenyatta, who earned a repeat win in the $287,000 Vanity Handicap (gr. I) (VIDEO) at Hollywood Park June 27 for her 11th consecutive victory.
In her familiar come-from-behind style, the imposing 5-year-old mare rallied from fourth at the top of the stretch under jockey Mike Smith to draw off in the final sixteenth en route to a 2 1/2-length victory over the pacesetter Briecat on Hollywood's Cushion Track. She was the 3-10 favorite in the field of six older fillies and mares.
Zenyatta became the fifth repeat winner of the Vanity, joining Azeri in 2002-03. The others are Annie-Lu-San (1957-58), Convenience (1972-73), and It’s In The Air (1979-80). The 129 pounds was the highest impost of any Vanity victor since Cascapedia won under the same weight in 1977.
Winner of the Eclipse Award last year as the nation's best older female and top contender for Horse of the Year honors this season, the 5-year-old daughter of Street Cry is trained by John Shirreffs for owners Jerry and Ann Moss. Zenyatta is now six-for-six on her home track.
The winning time was 1:48.15. Briecat, who had a 15-pound weight advantage against Zenyatta, edged Dawn After Dawn for second.
Breaking from the far outside, Zenyatta dropped back to fifth as Briecat, ridden by Martin Garcia,established the early lead and set reserved fractions. Forest Melody, expected to be a part of the pace scenario, was scratched and Briecat had things her way. She led by about 1 1/2 lengths over Allicansayis Wow and Dawn After Dawn through early fractions of :24.46, :48.02, and 1:11.28. As she usually does, Zenyatta moved up a bit rounding the final bend on the outside. Still, she had quite a few lengths to make up while three paths wide at the head of the lane. Briecat had edged away slightly on the turn and proved stubborn as she fought back on the inside against the rallying Dawn After Dawn.
Zenyatta kept charging on the outside, eventually reaching even terms with Briecat and Dawn After Dawn. Under steady handling from Smith, the big dark bay or brown mare took command in deep stretch to win with something left. Briecat and Dawn After Dawn, ridden by Garrett Gomez, battled to the wire for second, with Briecat coming back to get up by three-quarters of a length. Hot n' Dusty finished fourth, followed by Allicansayis Wow and Modification.
"It was a short field and she had a lot of weight on her and I didn't want her to have so much to do, so I stayed a little closer than normal," Smith said. "But when I asked her she lengthened her stride and it was pretty much over then.”
Smith walked to the paddock immediately after watching 3-year-old filly sensation Rachel Alexandra win the Mother Goose (gr. I) over two rivals at Belmont Park.
“I thought she ran dynamite,” he said. “Maybe down the road we can have a little race together. It would be nice and it would be great for racing, I believe."
The Mosses and Shirreffs will be speaking of the future after enjoying Zenyatta’s latest triumph. Zenyatta is just two wins shy of matching Personal Ensign’s perfect 13-race career.
“Well, we can certainly shoot for that,” Jerry Moss said. “She was a fantastic filly, Personal Ensign. The greatest horse race I think I’ve ever seen was that race (1988 Breeders’ Cup Distaff) against Winning Colors. It actually brought me to tears; we were at Churchill Downs.”
Zenyatta finished her 2008 campaign with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (formerly the Distaff) and could be headed for a repeat attempt, although future plans remain to be determined.
“Now she has two good races under her belt,” Moss said. “She is strong, she is fit. We’ll see where we go from here. That will be a decision John makes after he looks her over. I think we want to do something a little bit more challenging. We think she is capable. She’s stronger this year -- she’s a 5-year-old. She’s just amazing.”
Jess Jackson, the owner of Rachel Alexandra, stated earlier this week she will not run in the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita in November because he dislikes synthetic surfaces.
“He owns a great filly,” Moss said. “She won very easily today. I’m not too crazy about the synthetic tracks either. I don’t mind him talking up about that, maybe it will serve a purpose. And hopefully we will meet somewhere. If not the Breeders’ Cup, maybe it will be somewhere else. I think time will tell on something like that and we will go from there.”
Zenyatta is two-for-two in 2009, having won the Milady Handicap (gr. II) May 23 at Hollywood after seven months away. She carried 126.
“She’s a big strong horse and obviously we weren’t afraid of the extra three pounds,” Sherriffs said after winning his fourth Vanity. “She’s a champion and that’s what champions do. You can’t run from it. Embrace it.
"She was very steady throughout the race. Mike said he timed his ride. He didn’t want to move too soon. He didn’t want to try to open up. I thought that she responded to everything he asked of her. As we all know, when they step into the starting gate anything can happen.”
Zenyatta won last year's Vanity under 124 pounds by a half-length over Tough Tiz's Sis, which is the closest she has come to being defeated in a career that began with a three-length maiden win at Hollywood Nov. 22, 2007. Carrying the most weight she ever has, Zenyatta recorded her fifth grade I triumph. She has also won four grade II events. The winning purse of $180,000 increased her bankroll to $2,414,580.
Out of the Kris S. mare Vertigineux, the winner was bred in Kentucky by Maverick Production Limited.
Favored in her last 10 starts (and odds-on in seven of them), Zenyatta paid $2.60 and $2.10. The grade II winner Briecat returned $5.80 and completed a $2 exacta worth $14.20. There was no show wagering.
Besides Forest Melody, You Lift Me Up also scratched.
Gamely won the Vanity under an impost of 131 in 1968 and Silver Spoon carried 130 in winning the 1960 running.