Undefeated Zenyatta, showing she's ready for next month's much-anticipated Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I), caught the outsider Dance to My Tune in deep stretch to register her 15th consecutive victory March 13 in the $250,000 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap (gr. I) at Santa Anita (VIDEO).
The late-running Zenyatta gave her fans a scare, as she often does, en route to her 1 1/4-length win. Last of eight at the top of the stretch, jockey Mike Smith opted not to take Zenyatta wide as he usually does, instead guiding her to the inside to launch her bid. Zenyatta weaved through traffic near mid-stretch and took aim at 50-1 shot Dance to My Tune.
Smith never uncocked his whip as Zenyatta got the job done in 1:48.20 for the 1 1/8-mile distance on the Pro-Ride main track. She recorded her ninth lifetime grade I victory for owners Jerry and Ann Moss and trainer John Shirreffs.
The jockey said he wanted to avoid a taxing trip by not going wide with Zenyatta.
"I could’ve wheeled wide when we turned for home, but I decided to follow Chantal (Sutherland, aboard Pretty Unusual) as far as I could," Smith said. "I cut some corners and gambled a bit, but I was confident at all times that if she needed to make room, she could. She’s a bit of a bully. This was a great, great race for her and it wasn’t taxing at all. We got enough out of this race to move forward.”
A few minutes earlier, Zenyatta's connections watched from the Santa Anita paddock as another horse Shirreffs trains, Zardana, upset 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes at Fair Grounds. Oaklawn Park has offered $5 million for a showdown between Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra in the April 9 Apple Blossom.
Regardless of whether the connections for Rachel Alexandra decide to take on Zenyatta, Shirreffs said he knows where Zenyatta will be.
"Zenyatta will run in the Apple Blossom regardless," said the trainer after winning the Santa Margarita for the fifth time. "That was never really the thing, for us. It really wasn’t. Zenyatta came back so we could have some fun with her and other fans could see her. That was the whole thing. She’ll go back to Hollywood (Park) and get ready for Oaklawn.”
Asked if she was better now than she was before: “That’s hard to say. How can you be better than perfect.”
In her first race since her unprecedented win over males in last fall's $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), Zenyatta is now just one win away from tying the greats Citation and Cigar, as well as Mister Frisky and Hallowed Dreams, with 16 consecutive wins. The 6-year-old daughter of Street Cry—Vertigineux, by Machiavellian, earned $150,000 for the win to boost her career purse total to $5,624,580.
The two-time Eclipse Award winner was briefly retired by the Mosses following her win in the Breeders' Cup, but they decided to bring her back to the races rather than sending her to the breeding shed. In notching her sixth win over the Santa Anita main track, Zenyatta carried 127 for her return, spotting the runner-up 15 pounds.
Zenyatta was content to trail as Dance to My Tune, ridden by Martin Garcia, set a moderate pace (:23.88, :47.69, and 1:11.16) while tracked by Made for Magic and Gripsholm Castle. She was three wide on the final turn when she began to close the gap leaving the quarter pole.
Zenyatta moved up between foes in upper stretch and was steered to an opening along the rail at the eighth pole. Urged on by Smith, she angled out slightly and surged to the lead while in hand all the way to the wire.
"I just have a lot of faith in Mike," Shirreffs said. "I know once he gets her in the clear, he has a good chance. She cut in between horses and everything, but when you have a big X on your back, a lot of places don’t open up that normally would.”
Jerry Moss was extremely happy to see Zenyatta return in such fine fashion.
"Everybody’s so pleased to have her back and to root for her, and when she wins, she makes everybody happy," he said. "It’s sort of like something going on inside each and every one of us. She’s perfect. She’s the idol of perfection we all strive for. That’s about as profound as I get.”
Dance to My Tune, the longest shot in the field, held on by a nose for second over Floating Heart and Joe Talamo. Second choice Striking Dancer was a half-length back in fourth, followed by Pretty Unusual, Made for Magic, Pretty Katherineand Gripsholm Castle.
Bred in Kentucky by Maverick Production, Zenyatta paid $2.60, $2.10, and $2.10. The exacta with Dance to My Tune ($19, $9.40), from the Jerry Hollendorfer barn, was worth $45. Floating Heart, also third in the La Canada Stakes (gr. II) Feb. 14 for trainer Todd Pletcher, was $4.20 to show.