Older Female: Zenyatta In Another Romp

Older Female: Zenyatta In Another Romp
Photo: Judy Reich
Zenyatta wins the Eclipse Award for Older Mare.

Now that Zenyatta is retired and has collected the last of her many trophies with an Eclipse Award as older female of 2010,  it is time to look beyond all the adulation, all the tears (of both joy and sorrow), and all the love that poured so freely and fervently from the hearts of her many worshipers.

Beyond all the stories of inspiration lies Zenyatta the racehorse. Like all who are placed upon a pedestal, Zenyatta also had her detractors who thought she took the path of least resistance and held it against her when that path ended in defeat at the hands of Blame in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I).

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What is forgotten is that Zenyatta had already been unofficially retired, destined to be remembered as one of the greatest female racehorses of all time after going undefeated in 14 starts and defeating the boys in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic. She even had farewell celebrations at Hollywood Park and Santa Anita.

But owners Jerry and Ann Moss, with the support of trainer John Shirreffs and racing manager Dottie Ingordo-Shirreffs, decided to do the unthinkable—bring back a 6-year-old mare who had apparently reached the pinnacle of her success.

She had no trouble winning the grade I Santa Margarita Handicap, carrying 127 pounds in her first race of 2010, conceding 15 pounds to the runner-up and 16 pounds to the third-place finisher.

The next order of business was to ship her to Oaklawn Park, where she was to face the defending Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra in the Apple Blossom Invitational (gr. I). But Rachel Alexandra never made it to the starting gate, leaving Zenyatta to toy with her four opponents, winning by 4 1⁄4 lengths before a crowd of more than 44,000.

But instead of the quiet atmosphere most horses need and desire prior to a race, Zenyatta was inundated with visitors at Oaklawn and was constantly outside posing with them for pictures and being petted, hugged, and fed treats. This went on right up until race day. As Ingordo-Shirreffs said, “She never had a moment of peace, and that does take its toll on a horse. We had to be aware of that in planning the rest of her schedule.”

And it must be remembered that flying back East for Zenyatta meant nearly an hour’s van ride just to get to the airport.

By the time Zenyatta returned home to Hollywood Park, it was apparent she was going to need time to recover from the Oaklawn trip and she did not start again for more than two months.

She returned in the June 13 Vanity Handicap (gr. I) and not only had to carry topweight of 129 pounds but concede nine pounds to the rising star St. Trinians, who was so highly regarded she had gone off as the favorite in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I). Zenyatta looked beaten at the eighth pole when St. Trinians kicked clear, but she dug down and flew home her final eighth in :113⁄5 to win by a half-length, with St. Trinians finishing six lengths ahead of Zenyatta’s stablemate Zardana, who earlier had upset Rachel Alexandra at Fair Grounds.

That victory enabled Zenyatta to eclipse the modern-day record of 16 consecutive victories in top-level competition set by Citation and Cigar.

Because of Zenyatta’s dislike for Del Mar’s Polytrack surface, Shirreffs wasn’t about to subject her to a 1 1⁄4-mile race in the Pacific Classic (gr. I). But he needed to get a race in her, so he opted once again for the Clement L. Hirsch (gr. I), a 1 1⁄16-mile race she had already won twice. Despite struggling over the surface and the snail-like fractions of :50.61 and 1:15.11, Zenyatta still managed to eke out a narrow victory over Rinterval, who had just put a scare in champion Informed Decision, losing by a head in the Chicago Handicap (gr. III).

Then, as her final start before the Classic, Zenyatta again prepped in the Lady’s Secret (gr. I) and again turned apparent defeat into victory by running down Hollywood Oaks (gr. II) winner Switch, who would go on to finish second in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I) and win the grade I La Brea Stakes.

In the Breeders’ Cup Classic, despite having to come from so far back—she was nearly 10 lengths behind the next-to-last horse at one point—and then encountering traffic, she came flying late only to fall a head short of catching Blame. No one would argue it was one of her most impressive performances and further defined her greatness.

In a year in which she supposedly took the easy path, Zenyatta carried 129 pounds to victory, broke the records of Citation and Cigar, equaled the record for the longest winning streak (19), became the leading North American female money winner of all time, and capped off a record winning streak of nine consecutive grade I stakes.

Not only was Zenyatta’s career one of the most remarkable of all time, her historic 2010 campaign, which began as an afterthought, was one that will never be forgotten.

Voting for older female:
Zenyatta, 237; Goldikova (IRE), 1.

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