Mike Smith and Zenyatta have been an unbeatable team so far, and they’re the heavy favorites to add yet another victory to their sizzling streak in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (gr. I) Oct. 24 at Santa Anita. The Hall-of-Fame jockey has been aboard Jerry and Ann Moss’ 4-year-old undefeated filly in five of her eight career races. David Romero Flores rode Zenyatta, a daughter of Street Cry, in her first three starts.
“I was actually supposed to ride her to start with, but I was out of town, and that’s how he (Flores) got on her,” Smith said. “Then the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) was coming up, and he had El Gato Malo he had to ride. They (the Mosses) were going down to Arkansas for the Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II) and the Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) with Tiago and Zenyatta, and that’s how I got on her. I was fortunate enough that she ran a real big race that day and they kept me on her, so it all worked out for me.”
In addition, Smith guided Tiago to victory in the Oaklawn Handicap April 5, while Flores finished fifth aboard El Gato Malo at Santa Anita. Since then, Smith has won the Milady (gr. II), Vanity (gr. I), and Clement L. Hirsch (gr. II) Handicaps with the strapping Zenyatta, and in their last effort before the Breeders’ Cup, they scored by 31/2 lengths over grade I winner Hystericalady in the Sept. 27 Lady’s Secret Stakes (gr. I) over Santa Anita’s new Pro-Ride synthetic surface.
”She’s great to ride,” said Smith of his equine partner. “She really just loafs back there in last and kind of gathers herself together, and when you call on her, she has an explosive turn of foot that’s just amazing. It’s pretty special; it really is.”
Trained by John Shirreffs, Zenyatta did not begin her racing career until she was a 3-year-old, but she has piled up $1,064,580 in earnings.
“Not only does she have the size, she has the talent to go with it, and when you combine the two together, it’s lethal,” Smith said. “She’s a very big horse — she’s over 17 hands tall — and her stride is long. She’s really well balanced. Most big horses don’t have the balance that she does.”
Zenyatta also has been adaptable, excelling on a variety of racing surfaces during her career. In addition to Pro-Ride, she’s won on dirt at Oaklawn Park, Polytrack at Del Mar, and Cushion Track at Hollywood Park.
“So far, she’s handled anything she’s run on,” Smith said. “I don’t think there’s anything she wouldn’t handle. She might like one surface better than another, but she’ll try on anything. I think she really took to this Pro-Ride the last time out. She accelerated real quick on it. It didn’t take her four or five jumps to get going, so that was good.”
Smith rated the Apple Blossom and the Lady’s Secret as Zenyatta’s best races since he has been in her saddle.
“I liked the Apple Blossom because of the acceleration she had that day,” the jockey said. “Ginger Punch was in the race, and they (Zenyatta’s rivals) were about 12 lengths in front of me going into the final turn and coming out of it I was making the lead, so that was pretty impressive. She made up 12 lengths and just went on by them with ease. And the same thing happened in the Lady’s Secret. Hystericalady was up in front setting a slow place, and you would have thought they would kick away from her (Zenyatta), but they weren’t able to.”
Smith has ridden three winners of Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I), which was the Ladies’ Classic’s former name. He won the race for the first time in 1995 with Inside Information, and he added wins aboard Ajina in 1997 and Azeri in 2002.