The 2010 Lady's Secret Stakes
There are two reasons this event is remembered in the annals of California Thoroughbred racing.
First, it was contested at Hollywood Park after being at Santa Anita for several years. And second, it was the penultimate race for the most popular horse in the state and the sport. When it was over, she had won again, and she did so in front of thousands who came to see her in person.
In October of 2010, Zenyatta was in the midst of an eighteen race winning streak. In eighteen starts. No one had yet been able to topple her, even when it seemed she was going to come up short at the wire. Known for her thrilling rallies from behind, Zenyatta always found a way to dig deep and come out on top.
After debuting in November of 2007, the horse affectionately known as "The Queen" had gained a wide-ranging fan base cultivated by her dynamic come-from-behind triumphs. The legend grew after every race, and as she went for victory number nineteen, Zenyatta was attempting to accomplish what no other filly or mare had done.
Part of that winning streak included two consecutive triumphs in the Lady's Secret Stakes, named for the 1986 Horse of the Year. Zenyatta was aiming to successfully defent her title in the event once more, and if she did so, it would be at her home track.
Before 2010, the Lady's Secret had always been held during the annual Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita in the autumn. But, the Santa Anita/Oak Tree agreement came to an end that year, and Hollywood Park stepped in to play host to the autumn season. That of course meant more days of racing at the Track of the Lakes and Flowers, but it gave local fans one more chance to see the towering mare in action at the venue where she debuted almost two years earlier.
Zenyatta was last seen at Hollywood Park just before the start of summer, taking her third successive Vanity Handicap. Afterwards, she made it three straight in the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar. It was normal for several weeks, if not months, to go by in between starts for Zenyatta. The spacing between races made her starts even more of an event, and that was no different when she was entered in the 2010 Lady's Secret.
Only four horses opposed her, and none were given much of a chance to spring the upset. They were Emmy Darling, Moon de French, Satans Quick Chick, and Switch. Each of them had at least one stakes victory in their careers, but Zenyatta had far more than all of them combined. If any member of the quartet went to the winner's circle, it would have been one of the most shocking moments in the history of Hollywood Park.
Sent off at 1-10 odds, Zenyatta entered the starting gate to a loud round of applause, which continued at the break. The Queen took up her customary position at the back of the field as Moon de French was sent to the front. Switch went to the inside while Emmy Darling was on the outside of the leader. Satans Quick Chick was right behind in fourth, and all of them were close together entering the first turn. Zenyatta and Mike Smith were already a few lengths behind them, but that was nothing new. Everyone had seen this happen many times before when she raced. The expected rally would come in a few moments.
There was no change in the running order going down the backstretch. Moon de French continued leading while not setting a fast pace. Both the first and second quarter-miles were run in more than 24 seconds each. Zenyatta was unfazed, looking completely relaxed despite being well behind the leader. She was just waiting for the moment to move.
That moment came as the field went into the far turn. Zenyatta, with that flair for the dramatic, began overtaking each one of her rivals. When the fans at Hollywood Park saw her commence her charge, the noise level increased dramatically. First was Satans Quick Chick, then Emmy Darling. Switch moved up to be side-by-side with Moon de French as they turned at the top of the stretch, emerging with the lead. The crowd continued voicing its support for Zenyatta. She was on the outside as she straightened into the stretch in third place. For a brief moment, it looked like Switch was getting away, primed to dethrone her great rival. But, Zenyatta was not going to give up. She was going to fight.
Switch pressed on, the wire just seconds away. Zenyatta moved forward, displaying her calm demeanor. With a sixteenth left in the Lady's Secret, she charged forward as the grandstand became even louder. There were cheers and probably pleas from the fans, and Zenyatta kept going. It looked like a photo finish might be in the cards. Switch would not give up. Neither would Zenyatta, and she was nearing her rival. With a few jumps left, Queen Z surged on the outside. Switch was on her left, a colossal roar from the crowd on her right.
She was unfazed, just focusing on the immediate goal. Zenyatta knew what it took to win a race, and she was out to do it once more.
Right before the wire, she caught Switch to the delight of her fans. After being multiple lengths down early in the race, Zenyatta came back to win by a half-length. Three straight Lady's Secret victories. Eight Hollywood Park victories. Nineteen consecutive victories. And no losses.
October 2, 2010 turned out to be the last time Zenyatta competed in Southern California. Fittingly, it came at Hollywood Park. Her owners, Jerry and Ann Moss, celebrated in the stands. Trainer John Shirreffs was visibly proud of what his star mare had just accomplished. And the fans saluted here with an ovation befitting the champion that she was.
Along with the victory, Zenyatta's share of the purse catapulted her earnings to more than $6.4 million. That made her the all-time leading female horse in earnings, making the day even more historical.
There was one more aspect of the race directly linked to her. That was the crowd, which exceeded 25,000. That was reportedly the most since the 2001 Hollywood Gold Cup program, and it was because of the Queen. She singlehandedly brought thousands just with her presence. It was like yesteryear with Seabiscuit, Swaps, Native Diver, and John Henry. Zenyatta had that star power.
On that autumn day at Hollywood Park, that star power was an abundance. For one final time in the Golden State, Zenyatta held court. Like she had every time before then, she did not disappoint.
A living legend before the race, Zenyatta only added to that in the 2010 Lady's Secret Stakes.