Undefeated Zenyatta unleashed the best effort of her brief career when she blew past grade I winners Tough Tiz's Sis and Romance Is Diane mid-stretch to win the $150,000 El Encino (gr. II) (VIDEO) in her graded stakes debut Jan. 13 at Santa Anita.
Ridden by David Flores, the heavily favored Zenyatta trailed the six-horse field down the backstretch of the 1 1/16-mile event for 4-year-old fillies. Taken extremely wide around the far turn by Flores, the daughter of Street Cry picked off each of her rivals while flashing a dramatic turn of foot through the home stretch. Flores was easing her up approaching the finish in a 1 3/4-length victory.
Zenyatta carried 116 pounds to victory, six fewer than the co-highweights Tough Tiz's Sis and Romance Is Diane. But it is difficult to believe the weights made much difference.
"She was climbing a little bit on the backside, then she settled down," Flores said. "I really don’t remember riding any other horse that covers so much ground. She has such a long stride, and she does it easy. Oh yeah, it feels great when you have a horse like this."
Tough Tiz's Sis, winner of the Lady's Secret (gr. I) at Oak Tree's Santa Anita meet in October, held second by a nose over Romance Is Diane, who was coming off a win in the Bayakoa Handicap (gr. II) Dec. 1. The final time on a fast Santa Anita Cushion Track surface was 1:40.61.
It was just the third start for Zenyatta, a half-sister to the multiple grade I winner Balance owned by Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Moss and trained by John Shirreffs. The dark bay filly, out of the Kris S. mare Vertigineux, was a $60,000 yearling sale at Keeneland in September 2005.
"We think the world of her," said Moss, a former record producer who named the filly for a music recording by The Police. "She could be anything, I mean really anything. We’re just so proud of her and enjoying every day with her. Now she’s won a big stakes like this, I couldn’t feel any better.”
Zenyatta didn't have a great pace to run at, making her stretch kick all the more impressive. Tough Tiz's Sis, between horses on the clubhouse turn, settled into an easy pace with Dawn After Dawn and Romance Is Diane pressing through an opening quarter mile of :47 3/5.
Down the backstretch, Dawn After Dawn, ridden by Garrett Gomez, could wait no longer, coming through along the inside to get the lead while clicking off a half-mile in :47 2/5 and six furlongs in 1:10 2/5. At the top of the stretch, Tough Tiz's Sis and a tiring Dawn After Dawn bumped significantly while Romance Is Diane rallied to even terms on the outside. Tough Tiz's Sis recovered and fought back against Romance Is Diane, but neither could handle Zenyatta in the final furlong.
"It was a slow pace, but I just wanted to keep her in behind," Flores said. "At the middle of the (far) turn, I asked her and she took off.”
Zenyatta broke her maiden at 6 1/2 furlongs Nov. 22 at Hollywood Park, winning by three lengths. Stretched out to 1 1/16 miles for her next try at Hollywood Dec. 15, she romped by 3 1/2 lengths. She has earned $144,000.
Shirreffs said he would consider the 1 1/8-mile La Canada (gr. II) Feb. 10 for Zenyatta's next start.
"She hasn’t uncorked her big stride yet, so we’re still waiting for that,” the trainer said.
Maverick Production Limited bred Zenyatta in Kentucky.
Zenyatta paid $4.40, $3, and $2.40. Tough Tiz's Sis, second last time out in the Bayakoa for trainer Bob Baffert, returned $3.40 and $2.20 with Victor Espinoza aboard. Romance Is Diane, ridden by Michael Baze, was $2.20 to show.
Dawn After Dawn, Indescribable, and Fleet Caroline completed the order.