Undefeated Zenyatta unwound her patented stretch drive once again to sweep by Hystericalady in the final furlong to win the $245,000 Lady's Secret (gr. IT) (VIDEO) by 3 1/2 lengths during the Oak Tree meeting at Santa Anita Park Sept. 27.
The strapping 4-year-old filly earned her eighth consecutive victory and became a clear favorite for this year's Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic (gr. I), formerly the Breeders' Cup Distaff, which will be contested over the same Pro-Ride racing surface at Santa Anita Oct. 24.
John Shirreffs trains the daughter of Street Cry for Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Moss. Zenyatta, who did not begin her career until last November, went over the $1-million mark in career earnings while earning her third grade I victory.
“I was hoping I wouldn’t have to beat Hystericalady to (reach) the Breeders’ Cup," Shirreffs said. "She’s an awfully tough filly. But my filly is awfully talented, and talent overcomes a lot of stuff.
"It was a little hot, but she seems OK. She never got mad. If everything goes well, she’ll go back to Hollywood and train up to the Ladies’ Classic. That’s our plan.”
Jockey Mike Smith won aboard Zenyatta for the fifth consecutive race. They completed the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:40.30.
Just four started in the Lady's Secret after the scratch of the outsider Wake Up Maggie, but most expected a match race between Zenyatta, the 7-10 choice, and Hystericalady, at 9-10, anyway.
Zenyatta, as is her habit, broke a little tardily and trailed the field out of the gate. Hystericalady, ridden by Garrett Gomez, went to the front, with Teresita and Super Freaky chasing her through relaxed fractions of :24.26, : 48.32, and 1:11.45. Zenyatta, about two lengths off the pace at that point after beginning a bid that was earlier than usual, ranged up three wide on the turn.
After finally straightening away in the stretch, Zenyatta pressed on to edge past the leaders at the eighth pole. Smith gave her a tap on the shoulder, and she responded to draw away from Hystericalady under a hand ride.
Smith said afterward that he was "speechless." But he recovered.
"She just seems to be sent from heaven, man," Smith said. "She does things horses aren’t supposed to do. Those other mares picked it up. Not only did she pick it up, but she did it like, ‘Okay, let’s go.’ She pulled up and gathered herself up real quick.
The jockey then looked ahead.
“Without a doubt, she would be a deserving Horse of the Year if things continue to go well," Smith said. "She’s flawless. I mean, what else can you do beyond flawless? Her race today was incredible. I would say her best two races probably are this and the Apple Blossom (gr. I) at Oaklawn (in which she defeated the champion Ginger Punch). But this one, she really was within herself. She went by them like ... well, the last quarter of a mile, she was just galloping.
“I rode a mare (Azeri in 2002) who became Horse of the Year. Honestly, in their own right, she was a champion as is this one. No one beat either one of them. But this one, I wouldn’t necessarily even compare her to fillies. I’m really starting to think she might be the best horse I’ve ever ridden.”
Gomez said Hystericalady ran a huge race in defeat.
“Zenyatta is just amazing," he said. "You can’t say anything negative about her. She just keeps winning. She’s a huge thing. She just kind of gallops around there and keeps galloping at a quick pace. I watched Mike Smith warm her up, and he didn’t. He walked her back from the sixteenth or eighth pole and they just stood there. She seems to have some quirks about her. She’s a funny thing, but she sure runs fast.”
The $150,000 winner's share increased Zenyatta's earnings to $1,064,580. The dark bay was coming off a one-length win in the Clement H. Hirsch Handicap (gr. II) on Del Mar's Polytrack Aug. 2.
Bred in Kentucky by Maverick Production Limited, Zenyatta is out of the Kris S. mare Vertigineux and was purchased for $60,000 as a yearling at Keeneland in September 2005.
She paid $3.40 and $2.10. The grade I winner Hystericalady, coming off an eight-length win in the Molly Pitcher (gr. II) at Monmouth Park Aug. 24, returned $2.10. She went off at odds of 9-10.
Jerry Hollendorfer, who trains Hystericalady, said they would continue on to the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic.
“I thought she got the fractions that she wanted," he said. "We got away at the top of the lane like we thought we would, and then we just couldn’t hold off Zenyatta. We’re going to run in the Breeders’ Cup. Garrett said he would ride. We’ll do our best.
"This was a step-up race for us, and sometimes we have to step up and run. Right now, it looks like the filly (Zenyatta) is the very best. But I don’t take anything away from my horse. I really love her. I think she ran really well, and I think she’ll make a good account of herself in the Breeders’ Cup.”
It was one length back to Santa Teresita. Super Freaky was last.