June 25, 2010

Zenyatta reaffirms her place in history with 17th victory

Great Britain had the Beatles, South Africa rejoices with their vuvuzelas and now Hollywood Park patrons (and fellow Americans) celebrate the greatness that is Zenyatta. Named after the third Police album, "Zenyatta Mondatta" - which was widely proclaimed as Sting's break-out party, the giant dark brown (although she appears black) mare with the familiar full blaze now stands alone in the record books with her 17th consecutive victory in unrestricted races, 11 having been in Grade 1 company.

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert came out even though he didn't have any horses running Sunday, along with Bo Derek and composer Burt Bacharach - although there would be no rain drops falling on this day, only tears of joy. "People love the stars," Baffert said. "I haven't seen this many people since she ran the last time." Her presence at Hollywood Park, along with a promotional Zen' bobblehead giveaway, helped attract a crowd of 12,232, significantly higher than the average of 4,200 over the three previous Sundays.

Zenyatta faced legitimate opponents in the Grade I Vanity Handicap to earn this record, while being burdened with significantly more saddle weight to carry. Under the race's handicap conditions, Zenyatta carried high weight of 129 pounds — nine to 17 more than her five rivals — because of her stellar record. The highest-weighted Vanity winners prior to Zenyatta were way back in the 1960's; champion Gamely carried 131 in 1968 and Silver Spoon won with 130 in 1960. "We're carrying a lot of weight and I just wanted to get that weight moving forward," jockey Mike Smith added, "so I tried to tip out as we came off the turn and use that momentum to kind of slingshot me even though I was a little wide, to get her at least running."

And ran she did, past Zardana (who previously had defeated Rachel Alexandra in her comeback at the Fair Grounds) and then past a begrudging St. Trinians near the wire, a graded stakes winner who was at her peak since recently defeating last fall's Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic winner, Life Is Sweet. With the victory Zenyatta races past Hall of Fame members Citation and Cigar for consecutive win streak, although her record is even more special since she has yet to taste defeat.

In discussing her remaining pre-Breeders' Cup schedule, trainer John Shirreffs had the following to say. "How many times do you really want to cross the country," referring to the fact that the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs in November is Zenyatta's long-term goal. Thus, she will likely remain in California for one or possibly two more well-placed prep races. Then we could be treated to an epic Breeders' Cup Classic as four year-old Quality Road is back on a record-breaking streak of his own and last year's media darling Rachel Alexandra looked like her old self in romping by 10 lenghts in the Grade II Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs last weekend. If these great horses all stay sound and go postward in November that would certainly make up for the disappointing 2010 Triple Crown season. Stay tuned!

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