April 10, 2010

Zenyatta struts to sweet 16th win; ties Cigar and Citation's mark

Zenyatta looked like a schoolgirl on a playground at Oaklawn Park on a sun-drenched Friday afternoon. Let's forget about the fact that she's ginormous (I heard a wide range in sizes from the "casual" race fans near my perch on the rail), but she really looked like she was having a big time as she was prancing her front hooves during the post parade and hamming it up for her legion of fans armed with cameras. During the race, her head was erect for more than half of the race as she was frolicking at the rear of the small pack down the backstretch while others were put into stiff drives by their jockeys, heads low and ears pinned back. As if Mike Smith decided to finally let Zenyatta "come out and play," he gave her a bit of rein as she swooped to the front on the turn and was already on the lead straightening for the drive, uncharacteristic for Big Z at that point in the race. Of course, the rest is history, as she was never pushed or challenged in the stretch even though the opening fractions were very slow, yet she still posted a decent final time of 1:50 3/5, which should compare favorably to the Arkansas Derby horses going postward today.

This was not only a homecoming for team Zenyatta, who's victory in the 2008 Apple Blossom in only her fourth start really made her a national name fairly early in her streak -- much like Cigar when he captured the Oaklawn handicap in the 6th victory in his streak of 16 consecutive wins. But Mike Smith also was based at Oaklawn Park decades ago and was very gracious to the 44,973 men, women and a lot of children who played hooky to witness greatness as he cantered her back up the stretch before returning to her customary spot in the winner's circle, much like a baseball slugger taking a curtain call. Mike waved to the crowd and pointed to the gentle giant underneath, signaling that it was she who deserves all the credit. Along those lines, another shout out to Jerry and Ann Moss, the owners who were willing to bring her back to Oaklawn in spite of "that other" no-show and a purse reduction from $5 million to $500,000.

All in all, an enjoyable day at the races with most of those casual racegoers packed into the stands to be entertained. Zenyatta did not disappoint. I didn't even mind spending 9 hours in the car for a few hours at the track, playing hooky on a Friday afternoon, hanging out with my brother and the Big Z. Thanks for the memories, Zenyatta.

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