2010: One Race Equals Two Records for Zenyatta
After her sublime victory in the 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic, the plan was for Zenyatta to retire undefeated. She had been competing for two years, won fourteen consecutive races, and stood as the only horse to be a champion of both the Classic and the Ladies' Classic (now the Distaff). With her towering presence, visible determination, and ability to rally and win, Zenyatta truly produced one of the most memorable and storied careers in recent memory.
But, something happened after the Classic. Retirement was deferred for another year, and Queen Z was back in action in the spring of 2010.
First came a win in the Grade I Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap at Santa Anita, and then her second victory in the Grade I Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park followed. When she returned West, Zenyatta was back at her home track: Hollywood Park. The race was the Vanity Handicap, and she was going for her unprecented third straight victory in the longtime staple of the track's spring/summer meeting. Successfully defending her title was going to be a noteworthy accomplishment, but doing so would propel to even greater heights in racing lore.
Going back to the Apple Blossom, Zenyatta did what only Cighar, Citation, and Mister Frisky had done before her: win sixteen consecutive races. In a sport where any kind of extended winning streak is tough to achieve, producing a record of that length is something truly remarkable.
It had been nearly fourteen years since Southern California racing had the opportunity to see a horse go for seventeen straight victories. That horse was Cigar, whose bid was foiled in the 1996 Pacific Classic by Dare and Go. Now, Zenyatta was going to attempt what Cigar missed out on, what Mr. Frisky missed out on, and what Citation missed out on. And she would try it at the track she called home and where she made her debut more than two years earlier.
Five opponents stood between Zenyatta and the record: Cherryblossommiss, Miss Silver Brook, St. Trinians, Will O Way, and Zardana. They had nine furlongs to dethrone the Queen and halt the winning streak, and in the process come up with one of the most shocking moments in racing history.
A lot of people did not see Zenyatta being handed a defeat. She was made the 1-2 favorite by the public, with St Trinians the only other horse below 5-2.
Beginning from post five, Zenyatta broke fine at the start, but quickly assumed her customary position at the back of the pack. Miss Silver Brook and Joe Talamo sped along the rail to get the lead by the time they reached the opening turn. Cherryblossommiss was right off the outside, while Zardana and Will O Way battled behind them. St. Trinians occupied fifth place, and Zenyatta was right behind her.
The field was quite strung out by the time everyone reached the backstretch, and Miss Silver Brook continued on as the leader. Cherryblossommiss stayed close to her on the outside, and the remaining competitors were all behind by multiple lengths. Zenyatta was easily behind by more than ten lengths, and the pace was slow, with about 24 seconds flat being the time for the first quarter-mile. But defecits of that magnitude did not faze Zenyatta. She had done this before, and the moment when she would start her move to the front was being anticipated by everyone watching, and by the jockeys in the race.
Cherryblossommiss moved a little quicker in the Vanity's next segment (around 23 2/5), with Cherryblossommiss still right there with her. More daylight was between them and everyone else. Zenyatta stayed in sixth place, but she was looking confident. She had work to do, but she was also not being asked to move yet. The race was not over, and the quarter was starting to catch up to the front duo as they went into the far turn. Cherryblossommiss neared 1:12 for six furlongs, going slower since the half-mile point. Zardana and St. Trinians began their closing runs, looking to overtake the leader. Zenyatta followed, not looking fast yet still seeming to glide effortlessly towards everyone in front of her. She was not flustered; she was focused. She was not deterred; she was determined. She was not backing down; she was beginning her charge towards standing alone in the record books.
Zardana and St. Trinians burst to the front just before they completed the run to the stretch. Zenyatta's rally stayed on the outside, and she and Mike Smith were taken very wide as St. Trinians went wide herself. Zardana led briefly, but St. Trinians, with Martin Garcia going all out in the saddle, emerged in first place as she reached the final furlong. Zenyatta was still behind her, but catching up on the extreme outside. Zardana was no longer a factor, and that went for everyone else. With a sixteenth to go, less than ten seconds remaining in the Vanity, people were no doubt nervous. St. Trinians was not backing down when it came to her formidable opponent. The possibility of Zenyatta losing had to have flashed in the minds of countless people in the grandstand and watching on television. Zenyatta was trying, but St. Trinians was showing some serious mettle in the closing stages of the Vanity.
The fans were loud. Track announcer Vic Stauffer's voice grew more intense as the wire neared. History was in the making, regardless of the result. The difference was many wanted one kind of history, and that centered around Zenyatta staying undefeated.
After they passed the final sixteenth pole, she found a way once more. Her stride was fluid. Her eyes stared squarely in front. St. Trinians did not faze her. The wide trip did not faze her. Nothing fazed her.
St. Trinians could not hold her off in the final jumps. Zenyatta, for the seventeenth straight time in her career, beat everyone to the wire. She passed all of her rivals, and when she won, she passed Cigar, Citation, and Mister Frisky to own the longest winning streak in Thoroughbred racing.
Her fans everywhere were ecstatic, and definitely relieved, when she completed her rally. Zenyatta had that flair for the dramatic, and it was on display in the Vanity.
Her owners, Jerry and Ann Moss, were proud. So was her trainer, John Shirreffs. And of course, Mike Smith, her longtime dance partner, was filled with immense pride.
And so were her fans. As Zenyatta moved into the winners' circle on June 13, 2010, she firmly took yet another spot in the history books of Thoroughbred racing. She stood as the only three-time winner of the Vanity Handicap (and still does to this day), and with it broke a long standing mark shared by some of the sport's true greats. Both added to the aura of the brilliant mare.
Fittingly, Zenyatta held court at the Track of the Lakes and Flowers in front of her adoring public, and she continued her reign as the most popular horse in California (and likely the country) with a truly majestic performance.
She was known as the Queen, and the Queen reigned that spring day.