INGLEWOOD, Calif. (June 27, 2009) — One fan held a sign which said it all Saturday afternoon at Hollywood Park:
“Bo Derek a Perfect 10, Zenyatta a Perfect 11.”
Zenyatta, the champion distaffer with a perfect 10-for-10 record, notched career victory No. 11 as she came from off the pace to score a 2 ½-length victory while being geared down in the closing yards by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith in the $300,000 Vanity Handicap.
A spot in the Hall of Fame is being held for the dynamic 5-year-old mare who spotted five rivals from 13 to 16 pounds while toting an almost unheard of 129 — the most a winner has carried at Hollywood Park since Cascapedia won the 1977 Vanity in an era when carrying weight was the norm.
Zenyatta, a winner of seven races in 2008 when she was champion older female, was closer to the pace than usual, but still rallied from fifth on the far turn while covering 1 1/8 miles on Cushion Track in 1:48.15.
Pacesetter Briecat, a 10-1 shot getting 15 pounds from the champion, ran gamely, but was no match in the stretch. She finished three-quarters of a length in front of Dawn After Dawn, while Hot n’ Dusty was fourth.
Zenyatta paid $2.60 and $2.10. With no show betting, there was a minus place pool of $55,049 as $353,304 of the total place pool of $402,972 was wagered on the champion. The place payoff on Briecat was $5.80, while a $1 exacta wager on Zenyatta-Briecat returned $7.10.
Zenyatta became the fifth repeat winner of the Grade I event, giving owners Jerry and Ann Moss a return trip to the winner’s circle while providing trainer John Shirreffs and jockey Smith their fourth win apiece in the Vanity.
“It’s just amazing,” Smith said. “I’m so blessed to be part of the Mosses and Shirreffs and along comes a horse sent from God. She’s just incredible. It was a short field and she had a lot of weight on her and I didn’t want her to have so much to do, so I stayed a little closer than normal. But when I asked her she lengthened her stride and it was pretty much over then.”
Smith walked to the paddock immediately after watching 3-year-old filly sensation Rachel Alexandra win the Mother Goose at Belmont Park.
“I thought she ran dynamite,” he said. “Maybe down the road we can have a little race together. It would be nice and it would be great for racing, I believe.”
Jerry Moss and Shirreffs will be speaking of the future after enjoying Zenyatta’s latest triumph. Zenyatta is just two wins shy of matching Personal Ensign’s perfect 13-race career.
“Well, we can certainly shoot for that,” Jerry Moss said. “She was a fantastic filly, Personal Ensign. The greatest horse race I think I’ve ever seen was that race (1988 Breeders’ Cup Distaff) against Winning Colors. It actually brought me to tears, we were at Churchill Downs.”
Zenyatta finished her 2008 campaign with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (formerly the Distaff) and could be headed for a repeat attempt, although future plans remain to be determined.
“Now she has two good races under her belt,” Jerry Moss said. “She is strong, she is fit. We’ll see where we go from here. That will be a decision John makes after he looks her over. I think we want to do something a little bit more challenging. We think she is capable. She’s stronger this year — she’s a 5-year-old. She’s just amazing.”
Jess Jackson, the owner of Rachel Alexandra, stated earlier this week she will not run in the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita in November because he dislikes synthetic surfaces.
“He owns a great filly,” Moss said. “She won very easily today. I’m not too crazy about the synthetic tracks either. I don’t mind him talking up about that, maybe it will serve a purpose. And hopefully we will meet somewhere. If not the Breeders’ Cup, maybe it will be somewhere else. I think time will tell on something like that and we will go from there.”
The main focus Saturday, however, remained the Vanity.
“She’s a big strong horse and obviously we weren’t afraid of the extra three pounds,” Sherriffs said, referring to the boost after Zenyatta won the Milady under 126 pounds while making her first 2008 start here in the Milady in May.
“She’s a champion and that’s what champions do,” Sherriffs added. “You can’t run from it. Embrace it. She was very steady throughout the race. Mike said he timed his ride. He didn’t want to move too soon. He didn’t want to try to open up. I thought that she responded to everything he asked of her. As we all know, when they step into the starting gate anything can happen.”
Zenyatta, who began her career at Hollywood Park with a pair of victories at the 2007 Autumn Meet, has now won six races at her home track. The Vanity became her fifth Grade I victory to go along with four Grade II triumphs. The winner’s share of $180,000 boosted her earnings to $2,414,580.
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