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Animal magnetism

Unbeaten Zenyatta is clearly the star of horse racing's biggest event, and no one is jealous

November 05, 2010|BILL DWYRE

LOUISVILLE, KY. — There are 167 of the finest thoroughbred horses in the world who will compete as afterthoughts here the next two days. They are warmup acts to No. 168, a mare named Zenyatta.

It is amazing to behold.

Not only do other owners and trainers of horses entered in this year's Breeders' Cup, where $26 million in purses will be won, not resent her dominance of the scene. They welcome it.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, November 06, 2010 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 2 inches; 70 words Type of Material: Correction
Page 1 index: On Nov. 5, the Page A1 index to articles elsewhere in the edition erred in two instances. The racehorse Zenyatta, pictured during a practice run for the Breeders' Cup Classic, is a mare, not a filly. And an item about world stock market reaction to the Federal Reserve's economic stimulus plan misstated its size. The Fed plans to buy $600 billion of Treasury bonds, not $600 million.

Renowned California trainer John Sadler, who has four entrants in this annual prestigious showcase of horse racing's finest, estimates he has seen the magical Zenyatta run in 15 of her 19 races -- all 19 victories, of course. He says, "Sometimes, I don't want to watch, because I just don't want to see her get beat."

Al Stahl Jr., trainer of Blame, one of the top threats to Zenyatta in Saturday's grand finale, the $5-million Breeders' Cup Classic, says, "If we make the lead coming home and she blows by us, it's not the end of the world."

Mike Pegram, one of the owners of another Classic contender, Preakness winner Lookin At Lucky, says of Zenyatta, "She'll be a monster on dirt."

Thursday dawns overcast and chilly in Louisville. The morning temperature hovers in the high 30s, and a biting wind slices through the backstretch and barns of fabled Churchill Downs. But the crowds come anyway, in numbers many longtime racing observers call unprecedented for a routine morning jog.

Grown women yell in the direction of Barn 43, where Zenyatta lives these days, "We love you, Zenyatta." The size of the crowds already says that.

The media, slow to address why we fight wars where there are no weapons of mass destruction, never misses on identifying a rock star. Wednesday's big story was the traffic jam Zenyatta caused along the street behind Churchill's barns when she went to graze.

Thursday is more of the same. Zenyatta looks great. She is eager and energetic in her jog. She perks her ears and poses for the crowd, which makes a human tunnel for her when she goes to the main track.

One TV reporter sticks a microphone in the face of the cop guarding the sawhorse at Zenyatta's barn entrance. The questioning is about how honored he is as a chosen one, guarding the leading lady.

Such silly excess would be extraordinary, even for TV, except that she is, indeed, extraordinary and her public has an insatiable appetite for all nuggets about her.

"She just loves all this," says Zenyatta's trainer, John Shirreffs. "She has developed a great personality. She looks for it [the attention] now."

The family-like core connections around Zenyatta give her story a "Leave It to Beaver" feel.

Thursday morning, exercise rider Steve Willard chats outside the barn and points to David Ingordo, who discovered Zenyatta and recommended her purchase to his mother, Dottie. Dottie, the stable manager, passed the word along to Jerry and Ann Moss, Zenyatta's owners.

"None of us would be here, doing this today," Willard says, "if it wasn't for David."

Dottie's husband, and David's father, was jockey agent Jerry Ingordo, who died in 1998. Along the way, the Mosses asked Dottie to find a trainer to develop young horses. David recommended the relatively unknown Shirreffs. Dottie hired Shirreffs, then later married him.

As Willard speaks, Shirreffs is showing David some of his recent photos, and Willard is chuckling about what a "gadget guy" Shirreffs is these days.

"Those pictures were taken with the great camera John has," Willard says. "The Mosses gave him that as a present. John always has the best gadgets."

Willard says Shirreffs is a man of many interests and skills.

"John knows acupuncture," Willard says. "One time, I had a toothache. So he stuck a needle here and here [points to areas around his face] and the toothache was gone."

Soon, it is time for Zenyatta to go for a jog. Willard mounts, the masses part like the Red Sea, and all members of the immediate family follow along.

Ann Moss films the departure and narrates. "Good morning, sweetie," she says. Her husband trails. The longtime Hollywood record executive, along with partner Herb Alpert, produced the 1980 album by The Police, "Zenyatta Mondatta," from which the name came.

Jerry Moss takes in the scene and says, "Isn't this great?"

Shirreffs stands with Dottie, away from the crowd and watching Zenyatta's every move through binoculars. Nearby, fans approach the Mosses, wishing them well and thanking them for what they and Zenyatta have done for racing.

Mike Smith, her Hall of Fame race jockey, watches intently as Willard takes Zenyatta slowly down the long backstretch.

A fan approaches and asks Smith what it is like to ride Zenyatta.

"I wish I could describe it," he says.

Close by, other horses continue to enter the track for workouts. Each has a prestigious Breeders' Cup saddlecloth and its name. Each is a successful, wealthy star.

And, on this day, each is barely noticed.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

UNBLEMISHED RACING CAREER

Undefeated Zenyatta will put her 19-race winning streak on the line

Saturday in the

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