Although the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) undercard May 1 got an added dose of excitement when trainer John Shirreffs announced 2008 champion older female Zenyatta would make her 5-year-old debut in the Louisville Distaff (gr. II), the talented Street Cry mare may be forced to scratch due to weather.
“For her first race back we would like to have a decent track, so we will see how it goes,” said Shirreffs. “We are going to wait until the last minute to make a decision.”
Rain showers have been hitting Churchill Downs throughout the week, and the weather forecast for the weekend remains less than ideal. Originally, Shirreffs wanted to bring Zenyatta back in the Hawthorne Handicap (gr. III) at Hollywood Park, but the race was canceled for this year. No race has been selected for Zenyatta’s debut if she scratches on Friday.
“She is just starting off this year, and this is a grade II, it’s not the Breeders’ Cup,” said Shirreffs. “It’s a long year. She’s been training very well.”
Although the barn area at Churchill Downs historically takes on a carnival-like atmosphere in the days leading up to the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), Shirreffs reports that Zenyatta has settled in well.
“She’s doing very well and looks great,” he said. “She’s very sweet. When she goes out to the races, she knows she is going to run and puts on her game face, but in the mornings she is fine. She wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
Fans of the talented and undefeated mare were given a treat recently when Shirreffs and his team uploaded a video of her working out with Mike Smith, her regular rider, aboard.
“We do that once in awhile,” said Shirreffs. “It’s really neat because Mike is on her back, and you can see her shadow and Mike’s shadow. You get her mane blowing in your face. It’s pretty good. You get an idea of her size because when you first get on her in the video, the length of her neck is noticeable.”
To “take a ride on Zenyatta” visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hv49V2RzgHw
Shirreffs is no stranger to Churchill Downs in the days leading up to the Derby. He won the 2005 edition of the race with Giacomo and finished seventh with Giacomo’s half-brother Tiago in 2007. Zenyatta, Giacomo, and Tiago are all owned by Jerry and Ann Moss.
“When Giacomo heard those cameras click, his ears would prick and his eyes would get bright,” Shirreffs said. “He loved it. He was so good on Derby week it was unbelievable. He would walk over to the paddock on a loose shank. He was great.
“It was nice. We were all over there relaxed, not worrying about a thing because he wasn’t worried. We are really excited to see his 2-year-olds next year.”
Giacomo stands at Frank Stronach’s Adena Springs Kentucky near Paris, Ky. To see a current video of him visit: http://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/videos/watch/50E268CD-979A-4853-90C7-AFD0C228A938