Zenyatta tied Thoroughbred racing legends Citation and Cigar with her 16th consecutive win April 9 in the $500,000 Apple Blossom Invitational Handicap (gr. I) (VIDEO), blowing past her four rivals under Mike Smith as an adoring crowd at Oaklawn Park cheered the sensational mare to another easy victory.
Owned by Jerry and Ann Moss and trained by John Shirreffs, 6-year-old Zenyatta joined 1948 Triple Crown winner Citation, two-time Horse of the Year Cigar, and Mister Frisky as the only modern-day Thoroughbreds to score 16 consecutive wins in races not restricted to state-breds. The daughter of Street Cry is now perfect in all 16 of her starts and bumped her career earnings to $5,924,580 while scoring her 10th grade I victory as the 1-20 favorite.
"We're just thrilled and delighted that she's won 16 in a row," said Jerry Moss. "So many people have thanked us personally for bringing the horse here. I think wherever we go, people will be happy to see Zenyatta."
It was just Zenyatta’s second start outside of California, her other one coming in the 2008 Apple Blossom when she scored by 4 1/2 lengths in her fourth career start. As easy as that triumph was, this one was even easier.
As usual, the dark bay or brown mare raced in the back for six furlongs of the 1 1/8-mile Apple Blossom, giving her four rivals a significant lead while she was content to lope along under Smith. Be Fair, with Calvin Borel aboard, took the field through moderate fractions of :24.07 and :48.19 before a pressing Taptam took over while running three-quarters of a mile in 1:12.68 under Cliff Berry. War Echo and Just Jenda were behind the two leaders.
Still last through six furlongs, Zenyatta began her patented winning move entering the final turn. With Smith letting her out a notch, she began picking off the other starters with ease from a five-wide position, and it wasn’t long after hitting the quarter-pole that she took control. Holding a 2 1/2–length lead with a furlong remaining, she put the race away in upper stretch. Smith never moved a muscle on Zenyatta as she coasted to the wire 4 1/4 lengths ahead of 35-1 Taptam. The margin of victory could have been as much as she wanted it to be.
Zenyatta stopped the clock on a fast main track in 1:50.17. Taptam was 1 1/2 lengths in front of third-place Be Fair. Just Jenda was fourth, with War Echo trailing.
After posting her historic win, Zenyatta came back to the grandstand with Smith patting her neck in between waving to the crowd of 44,973. He stopped her in front of the fans and raised his helmet to the sky.
"It's kind of hard to say if she's getting better and better because she's so good,'' said Smith. "I was looking at the big screen in the stretch, to be honest, because at that point we'd already hit the front really easy."
Zenyatta's triumph fittingly occurred on the same day that Personal Ensign died at age 26 in Paris, Ky. Personal Ensign won all 13 of her career starts, including the 1988 Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) in which she came from behind to beat Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Winning Colors by a nose.
The only other Thoroughbreds to win as many consecutive races as Zenyatta, Citation, Cigar, and Mister Frisky are Louisiana-bred Hallowed Dreams, who also won 16 straight (many against statebreds), and Pepper’s Pride, a New Mexico-bred mare that won 19 in a row racing exclusively against statebreds.
Winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) against males last year at Santa Anita, Zenyatta is now 2-for-2 this season. She also won the Santa Margarita Handicap (gr. I) March 13.
The mare was bred in Kentucky by Maverick Production and is out of the Kris S. mare Vertigineux.
"We just wanted everybody to really see her perform the way we know she can," Shirreffs said. "We are just so glad we got to see it. We are glad for all her fans and we are really glad for Hot Springs because everybody has been so nice and this reaction and the way they’ve treated her has been great. It’s a perfect ending."
Moss said they would take a little time before committing to Zenyatta's next race.
"We are going to plot our schedule," he said. "We like races that are a mile-and-an-eighth. We like grade Is. So we will plot our course and if Rachel Alexandra wants to join us, she’s more than welcome. But we will plot our schedule with the goal of getting to the Breeders’ Cup."
Zenyatta paid $2.10 and $2.10. There was no show wagering. Taptam returned $6.40 to place. The exacta paid $18.