Unbeaten Zenyatta remained perfect in 12 starts, but she had her closest call yet in Del Mar's Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO) Aug. 9. Forced to circle the field six wide on the turn behind a slow pace, the giant mare just managed to get up by a head over Anabaa's Creation.
Ridden perhaps a little overconfidently by regular jockey Mike Smith, the 1-5 shot Zenyatta got the job done in the final lunge after Anabaa's Creation, who stalked the deliberate pace of Lethal Heat, got a narrow advantage in deep stretch. The final time for the 1 1/16-mile test for fillies and mares was 1:43.24 on the Polytrack.
“Wasn’t that something! I thought I had it," Smith said. "But I’ve got to admit I underestimated the company we were keeping today. They made her run."
Zenyatta registered her sixth grade I win for trainer John Shirreffs and owners Jerry and Ann Moss and successfully defended her win last year in the Hirsch, when she was victorious by one length. She is three-for-three in 2009 and eight-for-eight at the distance.
“It was very, very close down there," said a relieved Shirreffs. "All the way down the stretch I’m hollering, ‘Get ‘em, Get ‘em.’ What I really liked about her race is that she had a lot of ground to make up, and she put her head down and kept making it up. She never picked her head up. She kept reaching out and running for the wire. That’s Zenyatta.”
Lethal Heat, who inherited the pacesetter's role when Briecat and Patricia's Gem scratched, had set easy fractions (:23.86, :48.84, 1:13.64) for jockey Joe Talamo, and the grade II winner wasn't giving in easily as Anabaa's Creation challenged mid-stretch. Zenyatta charged from the far outside, sweeping past Life Is Sweet in the lane, but she had both of the leaders to pass inside the final sixteenth of a mile. Smith, though never panicked, showing her the whip while urging her on with his hands and the Zenyatta responded successfully once again.
As is her pattern, Zenyatta dropped well off the pace into last place after breaking from the far outside post in the seven-horse field. She began to cut into the margin while still trailing as the field made its way through the final turn. When stablemate Life Is Sweet, who shared top weight of 123 pounds with Zenyatta, swung into her charge for Garrett Gomez, Smith asked Zenyatta for her run as well. Zenyatta fanned out as she usually does rounding the bend, but she was wider than usual, and at the top of the lane it was clear there was plenty left for her to do on Del Mar's short stretch run.
"She really was running easy," Smith said. "Her ears were pricking back and forth and she was just loping. I never hit her, but I showed her the stick. I knew we had to get busy at the finish. When we got right near the wire she hit another gear. Then when we crossed and I stood up she hit another gear. On the gallop out she was drawing away. I’ll tell you, she wants to run farther. There’s no doubt. If she runs farther, she’s got an advantage. When we pulled up she was hardly blowing at all. She wouldn’t have blown out the match.”
Anabaa's Creation, an Irish-bred 5-year-old who was group-placed in France, was making her third U.S. start — and her first in a stakes here — for trainer Julio Canani. Stalking along the inside for Tyler Baze in third, she angled out in the stretch to get a head in front while closing in on the wire and just missed. She finished three-quarters of a length in front of Lethal Heat.
“I thought I won it," Baze said. "(Anabaa’s Creation) ran her fanny off. We got beat by a champion. I didn’t know where (Zenyatta) was, but I knew she was coming. She came and just got us.”
“Aw, what a race. My filly ran great. I didn’t think we’d be on the lead, but when I nudged her and she got there she just went into cruise control. So easy," Talamo said of Lethal Heat. "You can’t really complain when you get beat by one like the big mare.”
Life Is Sweet, second to Zenyatta in the Milady Handicap (gr. II) at Hollywood Park May 23, wound up fourth, more than four lengths behind the winner. Dawn After Dawn, Title Dance and Champagne Eyes trailed.
And so the drumbeat for a match-up with Rachel Alexandra, the nation's top 3-year-old, will continue. Shirreffs said afterward that he doesn't know where the 2008 champion older female and Horse of the Year runner-up goes from here.
Jerry Moss told TVG, "I've always said it would be great to have them run (against each other), but so far Rachel Alexandra has only raced against 3-year-olds, and we can't do that anymore. But anything can happen. I'd love to keep the door open."
Zenyatta's career bankroll swelled to $2,594,580 with the victory. She earned $180,000 for the win. Maverick Productions bred the dark bay In Kentucky. She is by Street Cry–Vertigineux, by Kris S.
The winner paid $2.40, $2.20 and $2.10 and the $2 exacta with Anabaa's Creation ($7.60, $5.80) was $22.20. Lethal Heat was $5.20 to show.