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Zenyatta again a perfect crowd-pleaser

The 4-year-old filly makes it nine for nine with a stylish, come-from-behind win in the Ladies Classic.

October 25, 2008|Pete Thomas | Thomas is a Times staff writer

Jockey Mike Smith predicted a day earlier that racing fans would witness something special when Zenyatta competed in the $2-million Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic.

What spectators saw on Friday afternoon at Santa Anita was an undefeated filly that is not only adept at closing but does so with such a long and powerful stride she seems to glide effortlessly past the competition.

Special doesn't begin to describe the Kentucky-bred daughter of Street Cry.

True to form, Zenyatta broke slowly and hung back, almost looking bored, before making her move from well off the lead in the backstretch. She picked up speed around the far turn and charged to a 1 1/2 -length victory over runner-up Cocoa Beach.

If there was something not so special about that performance, it was that the 4-year-old filly posted so slim a winning margin in covering the 1 1/8 miles in 1:46.85.

She'd come into the race having won her previous six by a combined 13 3/4 lengths, including a 4 1/2 -length romp in the $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park in April.

With Friday's triumph on Santa Anita's main track, Zenyatta remained unbeaten through nine races and drew comparisons to some of the greatest fillies of all time, such as Ruffian, Genuine Risk and Personal Ensign.

"I've never seen a horse go past other horses like this filly can," said Smith, 43, a Hall of Fame jockey who was aboard Zenyatta for his second Breeders' Cup victory of the day. "She sets herself up to come on them, and she just blazes by them. I've been on other horses that have speed and can pass other horses, but none like her."

Zenyatta becomes only the second horse with at least eight victories to leave the Breeders' Cup with an unblemished record.

Personal Ensign retired unbeaten with 13 victories after winning the 1988 Breeders' Cup Distaff, which has been renamed the Ladies Classic.

As Zenyatta blazed across the finish line Friday, with fans on their feet and applauding, her owner Jerry Moss struggled to hold back tears.

"She's a great star, and people understand that and applaud and give her respect, and that always gets to me," Moss explained afterward, with wife Ann by his side.

The Mosses purchased Zenyatta for a mere $60,000 and did not race her as a 2-year-old. Given her remarkable success, an obvious question is whether she'll continue racing or begin -- while her breeding value is peaking -- producing baby Zenyattas.

"She's just too good not to run again," said Moss, before amending his remark to mean the issue will be discussed at an appropriate time.

Another question is whether Zenyatta deserves to be horse of the year if Curlin, the reigning horse of the year, should fail in today's bid to repeat as Breeders' Cup Classic champion.

Neither Moss nor trainer John Shirreffs would provide an answer. But Smith, who also won aboard Stardom Bound in the $2-million Juvenile Fillies, was quick to lend an opinion.

"It starts with a 'Z' " he said.


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