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BILL DWYRE / ON HORSE RACING

Zenyatta is simply amazing

The mare unleashes a spectacular sprint down the stretch to win the $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar by a nose.

August 10, 2009|BILL DWYRE

DEL MAR — Despite all the oohs and aahs and superlatives that correctly followed yet another amazing race Sunday by the remarkable Zenyatta, jockey Mike Smith managed to capture best what had happened.

Half an hour after the now 12-0 mare of trainer John Shirreffs and owners Jerry and Ann Moss had done a bullet-train charge down the stretch to win the $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar by a nose, Smith sat in front of reporters.

He was told that Zenyatta had run her last quarter mile in 22.49 seconds and her last sixteenth in 5.2 seconds, reaching her top speed of the race of 40 miles per hour the moment she hit the wire.

Smith leaned back in his chair, grabbed the skin on his cheeks and pulled them back to look like a spaceship pilot on liftoff.

Zenyatta is horse racing's superstar No. 1, in a year when superstar No. 1A, Rachel Alexandra, is also a female.

Zenyatta is 5 years old, in her last year of racing and so special that she draws large attention to a sport that badly needs it. Rachel Alexandra is 3, with another year of racing still left for her and with a resume of victories, including one over male horses in the Preakness, that she also has a huge fan base.

Last weekend belonged to Rachel Alexandra, when she won impressively in the $1.25-million Haskell in New Jersey over a field of strong 3-year-old males.

This weekend was all Zenyatta's. Always the slow starter and big finisher, this time Zenyatta and Smith had their biggest hole ever from which to climb out.

As 20,335 watched, and with a tote board showing a ridiculous amount of money bet on Zenyatta to show -- meaning it was a sure thing -- Smith coasted her to her usual spot at the back of the pack. She was dawdling 13 lengths behind on the back stretch, and still eight back at the three-eighths pole. Lethal Heat was leading and the lead pack was not coming back to Zenyatta.

"I certainly underestimated the competition," Smith said.

As they turned for home, where Zenyatta always makes what Shirreffs calls her "big move," she needed more than big. Smith got her to the outside, but it didn't look as if she had enough time before the wire to make it.

"She lengthened her stride," Shirreffs said, "and she put her head down and never looked up."

In the last 20 yards, she somehow got her nose in front of Anabaa's Creation and third-place Lethal Heat. It was a heart-pounding finish that left fans screaming and Shirreffs, a soft-spoken man who shuns the spotlight, standing near the rail, shaking his head and smiling in disbelief.

Public faith in Zenyatta was best demonstrated by numbers.

Of the $632,212 bet on all horses in the race to show (finish at least third), $550,043 was bet on Zenyatta. That created a gap between what had been generated to pay out to winning show-betters and what, by contract, the track must pay out, which is 5 cents on the dollar. That is called a minus show pool, and that, becoming the norm when Zenyatta runs, amounted to $95,010. At least two bets of $100,000 were made on Zenyatta to show, one at Santa Anita. A $100,000 bet paid $105,000, the 5 cents on the dollar.

Interestingly, the Zenyatta victory not only turned up the volume among racing fans about the need to find a way to get these two horses to meet but also seemed to toss the ball back into Jess Jackson's court.

Jackson owns Rachel Alexandra, and has said, while he'd like to see the race, he will not bring Rachel West to the Breeders' Cup, the most logical venue for such a showdown. Jackson says he dislikes synthetic surfaces, such as the one at Santa Anita, where the Breeders' Cup will run Nov. 6-7.

Shirreffs, quietly but also pointedly, said, "They created a venue [the Breeders' Cup], a theater, for the best horses to come and compete."

Shirreffs also said that it was likely Zenyatta would not compete against the boys in the Sept. 6 Pacific Classic at Del Mar but would wait for the Grade I Lady's Secret at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meet on Oct. 10 as her Breeders' Cup lead-in race.

Sadly, about an hour after the Zenyatta euphoria, Endless Moon broke down right after the start of the 10th race and tossed rider Alex Solis.

Captain Cash and jockey Aaron Gryder flew over the downed Endless Moon and Gryder was tossed high in the air.

Endless Moon was euthanized on the track, the eighth fatality since the July 22 start of racing here, but the first since July 30.

Solis and Gryder escaped serious injury and Captain Cash, although not euthanized, injured a right foreleg.

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bill.dwyre@latimes.com

twitter.com/DwyreLATimes

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