Horse racing: Zenyatta to take 16-0 streak on the road again
AP Racing Writer
HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — Zenyatta is going to take her gaudy winning streak on the road.
The 6-year-old mare who tied 1948 Triple Crown winner Citation and two-time Horse of the Year Cigar with her 16th consecutive victory, in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park, is going to travel more outside of California this year.
Her trip to the resort city of Hot Springs was just her second ever outside her home state. She won the same race on dirt two years ago; her other 14 wins have been on synthetic surfaces in California.
Some critics believe Zenyatta's stay-at-home campaign cost her Horse of the Year honors last year, when she finished runner-up to Rachel Alexandra, who went 8 for 8 while running in six different states.
Zenyatta will be jetting to more destinations because the Breeders' Cup is at Churchill Downs after two consecutive years at Santa Anita.
"We've always looked at the Breeders' Cup as our focus," owner Jerry Moss said. "The Breeders' Cup, just for what it's worth, was in LA for two years in a row. That wasn't our choosing. Did it make it easier to run there and train there? Sure."
His wife Ann added, "Would we have rather run on dirt? Absolutely. Would we still rather run on dirt? Absolutely."
They'll get their wish on Churchill's dirt track.
The Mosses and their team will plot a schedule for Zenyatta based on the goal of having her defend her title in the $5 million BC Classic, in which she beat the boys last year.
"We want to let everybody see her, we're proud of her," Moss said. "It's exciting when she appears somewhere. She's a star, no doubt about her."
And an obliging one, too.
After trouncing four other horses by 4¼ lengths under an easy gallop in Friday's Apple Blossom, Zenyatta faced the cheering grandstand and bowed her head twice while extending one of her front feet as if to curtsy.
"It's a great feeling to be around something as important as she is," Moss said. "It is a responsibility, it's a great joy. It's just nice to have someone that's such a crowd-pleaser."
Moss said Zenyatta could run at Belmont Park in his native New York and in a prep race at Churchill ahead of the Breeders' Cup in October. Without specifying any particular races, he said he likes those that are Grade 1 with distances of 1 1-8 miles.
"If Rachel Alexandra wants to join us any time she'd like we'd welcome that idea," he said.
Racing's other female superstar is training at Churchill Downs after spending the winter at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, where she lost her season debut on March 13. That surprise result convinced principal owner Jess Jackson to pull the plug on Rachel Alexandra running in the Apple Blossom, which would have carried a $5 million purse if both she and Zenyatta had competed.
There is speculation that Rachel Alexandra's next start may be the $400,000 La Troienne Stakes on the April 30 Kentucky Oaks undercard. But no one in her camp has confirmed she'll run in the 1 1-16-mile race.
Trainer Steve Asmussen saddled War Echo in the Apple Blossom, but he declined to discuss Rachel Alexandra after his horse finished last to Zenyatta.
He shook hands with Zenyatta's jockey Mike Smith beforehand, and afterward said, "That was incredible."
Zenyatta ran five races last year, two fewer than in 2008. Both years she won the Vanity and Milady handicaps at Hollywood Park, her home track. Under handicap conditions, Zenyatta could be forced to carry the highest weight because of her impressive record. The Grade 2 Milady at 1 1-16 miles is May 16; the Grade 1 Vanity at 1 1-8 miles is June 13.
"Whatever they weight her for that will probably determine whether we ship again," trainer John Shirreffs said. "If you have to ship all the time to run, it makes it difficult to have too many races."
Zenyatta's immediate destination is a return to Hollywood Park. She spent her final day at Oaklawn on Saturday calmly posing for photos with a stream of visitors to her barn.
"I think wherever we go, people will be happy to see Zenyatta," Moss said.