Zenyatta made number 17 one of her most suspenseful victories ever, getting up in the final few strides to pass a stubborn St. Trinians and win the Grade 1 Vanity Handicap by a half-length at Hollywood Park on Sunday. Under Mike Smith and carrying top impost of 129 pounds, the undefeated, two-time champion drew a huge roar from the crowd as she crossed the finish line with the narrow victory.
Chart of Zenyatta's victory.
The win was Zenyatta's third straight in the Vanity, but more importantly extended her unbeaten streak to 17 races, putting the grand mare ahead of two great champions, Citation and Cigar, who won 16 consecutive races against top-level competition. Peppers Pride, the pride of New Mexico, retired undefeated with 19 victories, but none of them were in graded stakes. Zenyatta still has a way to go to catch Camarero, the legendary Puerto Rican favorite who won 56 races in a row from 1953-55.
“What can I say? I'm in love with her,” a relieved Jerry Moss said on TVG after Zenyatta's historic win. Moss, who owns the 6-year-old daughter of Street Cry with his wife, Ann, admitted to being “just a tiny bit concerned” when victory seemed in doubt in mid-stretch. He quickly added, “She had to give away some weight and (Smith) went way wide with her.”
Zenyatta dropped back to trail the field early, as is her custom, as Miss Silver Brook set moderate fractions of :24.05, :47.54 and 1:11.91 for the opening six furlongs. Martin Garcia had St Trinians in fifth, ahead of only Zenyatta, and as the field rounded the far turn swung her four wide to tackle the frontrunners.
Smith also had Zenyatta in gear, and though he later said he thought about trying to split the field instead went six wide for the drive. Zardana, who like Zenyatta is trained by John Shirreffs, had moved to the lead at the top of the stretch, but St Trinians quickly took over and appeared headed to victory. Smith went to the right-handed whip, using it nine times before putting it away in deep stretch when Zenyatta found another gear and swept by St Trinians on the outside. Zardana finished third, with Will O Way fourth in the field of six fillies and mares.
Final time for the mile and an eighth was 1:49.01 after a one-mile split in 1:36.98. Zenyatta was 2 1/2 lengths back at the eighth pole, giving her a final furlong clocking of about 11 3/5 seconds.
“Oh, my Lord, that mare run her eyeballs out,” Smith said of St Trinians, who carried 120 pounds, nine fewer than Zenyatta. “I was just amazed at how hard that other mare tried….I knew had at it at about 100 yards out.”
It was Zenyatta's narrowest margin of victory since she won the Clement L. Hirsch at Del Mar last year by a head in another dramatic finish.
St Trinians, coming off a sixth-place finish as the favorite against males in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, was one of two Grade 2 opponents Zenyatta had to beat, the other being Zardana. Trained by Mike Mitchell, the 5-year-old daughter of Piccolo was a British important who won four straight after coming to the United States after the 2008 racing season in Europe had ended.
Zardana, a 6-year-old Brazilian-bred by Crimson Tide, won the Grade 2 Bayakoa Handicap over the Hollywood Park surface last fall, then upset Rachel Alexandra in the New Orleans Ladies at Fair Grounds in March. That race was to have been a springboard for the 2009 Horse of the Year to meet Zenyatta in the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park after track owner Charles Cella offered to put up a $5-million pot if both Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra ran. But following Rachel Alexandra's defeat, she was pulled from the race. Zenyatta won the Apple Blossom by 4 1/4 lengths.
Hollywood Park fans crowded around the paddock and filled the stairways behind the grandstand to view Zenyatta in the saddling area, and they cheered loudly when she emerged from the tunnel for the post parade. They roared again when she surged to the lead in the shadow of the wire, and cheered loudly when Smith brought her back to the winner's circle.
The victory was worth $150,000 and moved Zenyatta's lifetime earnings to $6,074,580.
But on this Sunday afternoon, the most important number was “Zeventeen.”
POST RACE QUOTES, COURTESY OF HOLLYWOOD PARK MEDIA OFFICE:
JERRY MOSS, ZENYATTA: I'm going to be watching that (replay) 30 or 40 times. I had a feeling she was going to make it somehow like she always does, ever since she caught Anabaa's Creation in that race at Del Mar (the 2009 Clement L. Hirsch when Zenyatta won by a head). She won, she got there, she gave away the nine pounds (129-120) and she came about seven wide. She's just awesome. What can I say. The reaction of the crowd was amazing. She's such a fan pleaser. Everybody here loves her.''
JOHN SHIRREFFS, ZENYATTA, Winner: “I was just watching the race unfold and hoping to see her make her big run. What I was watching was the distance between her and St. Trinians and it seemed to stay the same, so I thought, 'Well, the margin is staying the same and Zenyatta hasn't made her kick, so she should cut into it. (When asked if he ever had a doubt Zenyatta was going to win). “It's a horse race and they have to fight it out down there at the wire. Her last couple of works were a little on the slow side, so we were kind of concerned about that. She was always finishing well in her works, they just didn't set up the way we wanted in the morning. When it's done perfectly, you say, 'OK that's done we've taken care of that and we go on to something else,' but when you can't completely close the book it leaves some uncertainty.''
MIKE SMITH, ZENYATTA, Winner: “It's just incredible. It was a great, great race. It was a gallant effort on St Trinians' part, she really ran huge. When we headed for home I hit a real big gear and she hit another one right back at me and I said 'Whoa, she's serious, she's going to make me run.' I was working at it until the last hundred yards and then I knew I'd out grind her. We're carrying a lot of weight and I just wanted to get that weight moving forward 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. I didn't want to take a chance splitting them because if Martin (Garcia) saw me do that he might make it tight on me. If I had to steady just for a jump, to get that weight going again is asking an awful lot. I knew he was probably going to take me out (wide), it was great race riding on his part. But it was just me and him. So as wide as he is, that's as wide as I'm going to be. Nothing matters at that point.”
MIKE MITCHELL, ST. TRINIANS, Second: “I thought I had her just the way I wanted her and I knew John had his mare just the way he wanted her. It was a good horse race. What can you say. I wanted to be a little farther in front of her turning for home because I know the kick that Zenyatta's got. My mare has a big kick, too. She just got outrun. I'm happy. I just wanted it to be a good race. We're all big fans of Zenyatta in my family. I know that (St Trinians) didn't shame herself.''
MARTIN GARCIA, ST TRINIANS, Second
: “I don't know what to say. I can't say anything right now. I couldn't have asked her for any more. The other mare is just too much horse. But mine is too.”
VICTOR ESPINOZA, ZARDANA, Third
: “Zenyatta is just an unbelievable horse to ride against. Everything was good during the race, but to stay with her, it's impossible.”
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