This article appeared in the November 2010 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe, please visit loumag.com.
The grand handicapping challenge of the coming 2010 Breeders’ Cup is what to do about Zenyatta — and that is a question at the top of the list for almost every handicapper. The six-year-old daughter of Street Cry, owned by Hollywood music producer Jerry Moss and his wife Ann, is trained by John Shirreffs and ridden by Mike Smith and is undefeated through her entire four-year-racing career. She’s 19 for19, which ties the longest unbeaten streak in more than a century, and will retire a perfect 20-for-20 — if she can win the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs. Zenyatta already has won two Breeders’ Cup races, including the 2009 Classic at Santa Anita, in which she dazzled the world with a searing stretch run, coming from far back to win going away.
Plus, the horse has charisma, says Jessica Chapel, who edits the racing news site BreedersCup360.com.
“To see the love — there’s no other word for it — that Zenyatta engenders in people, and to see how responsive she is to the crowd,” says Chapel. “And then to see this incredible animal running down the stretch, with every stride faster and faster.”
Chapel thinks it’s all about heart. Zenyatta, she says, “just oozes an incredible will to win. She’s in the most desperate situations. In the 2009 Clement Hirsch (Stakes at Del Mar), any other horse would have probably lost that race. But in the last stride she found it within herself to stretch out that extra inch.”
But now, Zenyatta switches surfaces, from a California synthetic track to traditional dirt at Churchill Downs. She’s raced just twice on dirt, both times at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas — although (little known fact) she was here in Kentucky two Derbys ago to run in a stakes race at Churchill Downs on Derby Day, but was not entered because of rain and a sloppy track.
Most handicappers believe that horses are markedly better on one surface or the other. But Zenyatta may be special. “I think she’ll do fine,” says Jerardi. “I don’t think there are any issues with her. I think she will run her premium race.
“But,” he adds, “I think the difference between this year and last year, for the first time, maybe other than when she pulverized Ginger Punch in the Fantasy Stakes (at Oaklawn Park), she’s going to run against really good horses on the dirt. She’s going to have to run against horses like Quality Road and Blame, maybe Lookin at Lucky, on the dirt, and she’s never had to do that. That’s not to say she can’t win, because clearly she wins every time. But I think it’s going to be the ultimate challenge.”
For handicappers too.
Photo: Courtesy Breeders' Cup