Zenyatta improves to 15-0 with Santa Anita win

Zenyatta’s owners brought her back to the races so they could

have some fun and the fans could enjoy the mare who loves putting

on a show.

She delivered on both counts Saturday, when Zenyatta won the

$250,000 Santa Margarita Handicap by 1 1/4 lengths, extending her

career victory streak to 15-0.

“Everybody really loves her,” co-owner Jerry Moss said.

“Everybody’s so pleased to have her back and to root for her, and

when she wins, she makes everybody happy.”

The 6-year-old mare trailed a field of seven rivals going 1 1-8

miles in her season debut before unleashing her trademark late run

to win under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith.

“This was a great, great race for her and it wasn’t taxing at

all,” Smith said. “We got enough out of this race to move

forward.”

In New Orleans, 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra was

upset in her season debut, possibly jeopardizing the highly

anticipated first meeting with Zenyatta in the Apple Blossom next

month in Arkansas.

She was beaten three-quarters of a length by Zenyatta’s

stablemate, Zardana; John Shirreffs trains both Southern

California-based mares.

The two leading ladies of American racing were using Saturday’s

races as tuneups for their scheduled April 9 showdown. Moss said he

intends to run her there as planned, while Rachel Alexandra’s

trainer Steve Asmussen was non-committal.

The owner of Oaklawn Park has promised a $5 million purse, but

only if both the filly and the mare run.

Moss watched Rachel Alexandra lose at the Fair Grounds about 20

minutes before Zenyatta won.

“I’m sorry she lost, but she lost to a better horse,” he said.

“We’ll see what happens in the next race. Hopefully, she’ll come

back a stronger racehorse in a month, and we’ll see the real

Rachel, so to speak.”

Zenyatta was timed in 1:48.20 on the synthetic surface and paid

$2.60, $2.20 and $2.10 as the overwhelming 1-5 wagering favorite in

her first race in four months.

Zenyatta’s path to continued perfection took a different route

this time.

She appeared to break from the starting gate on her back feet

before Smith settled her into last on her first trip past the

grandstand. Dance to My Tune led the way around the backstretch,

with Zenyatta eight lengths off the pace.

“I just have a lot of faith in Mike,” Shirreffs said. “I know

once he gets her in the clear, he has a good chance. She’s cut in

between horses and everything, but when you have a big `X’ on your

back, a lot of places don’t open up that normally would.”

Coming out of the final turn, instead of going wide around the

field – her typical move – Smith steered Zenyatta to the rail near

the eighth pole. He found traffic down there, prompting announcer

Trevor Denman to shout, “She has nowhere to go!”

A moment later, Zenyatta burst clear as the grandstand crowd

erupted.

“Unbelievable!” Denman exclaimed.

She got by leader Dance to My Tune, and surged to the front with

Smith never needing his whip.

“I cut some corners and gambled a bit, but I was confident at

all times that if she needed to make room, she could,” he said.

“She’s a bit of a bully.”

Zenyatta was the class of the Santa Margarita field, and as

such, she was assigned high weight of 127 pounds – 12 to 19 more

than her rivals. She was the only runner sent off at single-digit

odds.

Dance to My Tune returned $19 and $9.40, while Floating Heart

was another nose back in third and paid $4.20 to show.

On their way to the winner’s circle, Smith stopped Zenyatta in

front of the grandstand and doffed his helmet to the heavens as the

crowd cheered their hometown heroine.

“I’m like a fan,” Smith said.

After soaking up the applause, Zenyatta pranced toward the

jammed winner’s circle, where Oscar winner Dustin Hoffman was among

those celebrating her victory.

“She’s the idol of perfection we all strive for,” Moss said.

“That’s about as profound as I get.”

Moss and his wife, Ann, were going to retire Zenyatta after she

became the first female to beat the boys in the $5 million

Breeders’ Cup Classic in November on the same track. But they

changed their minds in January, putting her back into training

instead of into the breeding business.

“She’s such a gift,” Ann Moss said.

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