Perhaps the Horse of the Year title is not a foregone conclusion. Zenyatta gave the crowd what they waited for — and the patrons responded by cheering, clapping, and waving — as she ran her unbeaten streak to 14 with a magnificent performance in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) Nov. 7 at Santa Anita (VIDEO).
Zenyatta looked uncomfortable for the first 200 yards and was last the first time by the stands, but she was flying down the stretch the second time and rolled by Gio Ponti to win the $5-million race. She became the first filly or mare to win the Classic.
Most voters had Rachel Alexandra penciled in as Horse of the Year but Zenyatta’s victory over males has re-opened that argument.
Zenyatta was a bit reluctant to load, but the assistant starters had no problem getting her in the gate once they locked arms behind the big daughter of Street Cryand coaxed her forward.
The same could not be said for Quality Road , who became unruly and started bucking. The assistant starters were unable to load the colt until putting a blindfold on him, but he continued rearing. Jockey John Velazquez jumped off and Quality Road kicked the front of the gate open. An assistant starter grabbed him but he began wheeling and bucking because he still had the blindfold on. Finally he settled down but was scratched. He suffered minor lacerations to his limbs, Dr. Wayne McIlwraith said.
When Zenyatta broke, she was uncomfortable getting into stride, on her wrong lead, and was throwing her head.
"It started out with a little concern after the mishap at the gate," jockey Mike Smith said. "We had to unload and everyone had to get off. And she started getting a little agitated. We got her back in the gate, and she was standing so still I didn't want to move her. But I was a little worried when the gates opened she wouldn't move period, and she didn't. I thought, ‘Oh, God, no, not today.’ "
Regal Ransom broke like a shot and was throttled over from the 11 post by Richard Migliore. He was followed by Einstein and Rip Van Winkle as the field ran a quarter in :24.16 and a half-mile in :47.88. Zenyatta was about 10 lengths from the lead as the field was heading down the backstretch, with Regal Ransom still on the lead and Rip Van Winkle in second. They ran six furlongs in 1:11.88.
As they began cornering for home, Ramon Dominguez, who had a ground-saving trip on the rail, had Gio Ponti on the move and he found a hole and hit it as Summer Bird moved out a bit. Dominquez then split horses and Gio Ponti hit the front full of run. But Mike Smith had asked Zenyatta to commence her run through the turn as well and she moved off the rail and split horses out in the middle of the track.
While Gio Ponti had opened up a bit of daylight, Zenyatta was simply gobbling up the ground, and as the crowd screamed during the final 100 yards, she moved by to get the historic win by a length.
When the crowd of 58,825 started screaming, "She thought maybe I should stop and pose again," Smith said. "She started pricking her ears and looking at the crowd, and I got after her a little bit, and she went on. And she still went, believe it or not, well within herself. She was pricking her ears and galloped out. She didn't even take a breath after the race was over. It's just incredible."
Zenyatta captured the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (gr. I) last year for her ninth straight win. In her start prior to the 2009 Breeders’ Cup, she won the Lady’s Secret Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita.
This year, owners Jerry and Ann Moss and trainer John Shirreffs entered Zenyatta in both the Classic and Ladies Classic but opted to meet males for the first time in the Classic.
"There are tears coming to my eyes," Shirreffs said. "I can’t believe it. She is a great, great filly. She is all heart. The way the crowd took to her was just amazing. They cheered for her; they love her. What a wonderful relationship."
Gio Ponti finished second, followed by Twice Over and Summer Bird. Zenyatta paid $7.60, $5.60, and $3.80. Gio Ponti returned $9.20 and $6.60, and Twice Over was worth $7.
Summer Bird was fourth, followed by Colonel John, Richard's Kid, Awesome Gem, Regal Ransom, Mine That Bird, Rip Van Winkle, Einstein, and Girolamo.
Zenyatta was bred in Kentucky by Maverick Production from the Kris S. mare Vertigineux. She is a half-sister to multiple grade I winner Balance (by Thunder Gulch). The mare produced a filly this year by Bernardini and is in foal to Henrythenavigator.
Zenyatta was consigned to the 2005 Keeneland yearling sale by Don Robinson’s Winter Quarter Farm as agent for Maverick Production. She was purchased by the Mosses for $60,000.
Street Cry stands at Sheikh Moihammed's Darley near Lexington, where his fee is $150,000.