Zenyatta Makes “Her”Story

Originally posted on LAist on November 7, 2009.

She did it. It took a shade over two minutes, 2:00.62 to be exact, but Zenyatta became the first mare or filly to win the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic in an improbable come-from-behind fashion that was indeed a classic.

“It certainly takes an incredible, incredible mare to do it,” hall-of-fame jockey Mike Smith said. “And you know, her size and just her style of running and the length of her stride is incredible.”

“We’re over the moon,” owner Jerry Moss said. “We knew we wanted to do this for her to prove what we thought that she deserved this chance. She just performed so beautifully.”

Moss, it should be noted, is a co-founder of A&M Records and named Zenyatta after the 1980 Police album Zenyatta Mondatta.

The Santa Anita crowd of 58,845 was behind Zenyatta all day holding up pink signs reading, “Girl Power! Go Zenyatta.”

“The way the crowd took to her was just amazing,” Moss gushed. “They cheered for her, they clapped for her; they love her. What a wonderful relationship.”

“I’ve never seen a crowd so captivated,” trainer extraordinaire Bob Baffert said. “It felt like a horse winning the third leg of the Triple Crown.”

The race started off with a bit of drama as Quality Road, racing from the 12th position, refused to get in the starting gate. With the first 11 horses locked in the gate, they tried scaring him with the sound of the whip and by blindfolding him to get him in the gate. All attempts were futile as he kept bucking violently scraping his hind leg which eventually forced him to be scratched from the race.

The drama clearly affected Zenyatta a bit because she didn’t get any jump whatsoever out of the starting gate.

“She started getting a little agitated,” Smith said of the drama. “I was a little worried when the gates opened she wouldn’t move period, and she didn’t. So that was a huge, man, I thought oh, God, no, not today.

“She actually spotted a length or two leaving there. I had to get her out of there. I had to hit her out of there. I didn’t know if she was going to stand or back out again. When she did come out she was in her left lead which isn’t what you want to be in. You want to be in your rights on the straights and lefts on the turns. I let her go. Let her get back to the lead and she gathered herself up.”

At this point Zenyatta was 10 to 11 lengths behind the leader Regal Ransom. By the ½ mile point she had overtaken Kentucky Derby winner Mine that Bird.

“About the 3/8 pole I saw Zenyatta going,” Mine that Bird jockey Calvin Borel said. “I tried to follow her because I didn’t want her to get away from me, but he couldn’t do it.”

As the horses approached the final turn, Zenyatta was still trailed Regal Ransom by a considerable margin and things looked bleak. While everyone knew her modus operandi was to make a late surge, even this huge deficit seemed too much to overcome.

“Zenyatta has a lot a lot of ground to make up,” Santa Anita race caller Trevor Denman announced. “Zenyatta, if she wins this she will be a superhorse.”

Right after Denman said that, Zenyatta made a move inside coming out of the turn with 300 yards left to go. At 200 yards, Zenyatta made a move outside getting the crowd on their feet. She kept her head down and with 25 yards left took the lead.

“This! Is! Un! Be! Lievable,” Denman exclaimed as Zenyatta approached the finish line with the crowd roaring. “Zenyatta! What a performance! One we will never forget! Looked impossible. But it is Zenyatta still unbeaten under Mike Smith.”

“I still never got to the bottom of her,” Smith said. “That’s the amazing thing. She still had run left. She’s incredible.”

Christopher Clement, trainer of second place Gio Ponti, said, “She’s a freak. What can I say? She’s a freak.”

Zenyatta is now perfect in her 14 races becoming only the fifth horse since 1900 to reach that mark. And in this Classic she defeated the Kentucky Derby winner in Mine That Bird and the Belmont Stakes winner in Summer Bird. She defeated a four-time Grade I Stakes winner Gio Ponti. It was arguably the best Classic lineup since its inception in 1984.

Announcer Trevor Denman said it all after the race.

“What a dramatic performance! One of the most sensational ever! Zenyatta wins the Breeders’ Cup Classic. “