No one could have imagined just how successful the mare Zenyatta would become when she was just a filly. Nothing is ever guaranteed in horseracing, and even the presence of great breeding doesn’t promise a horse will do great things. The old saying in horseracing is, “Breed the best to the best, and hope for the best.”
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Zenyatta was foaled on April 1—April Fool’s Day—2004 in Kentucky. Some might have argued that this was a bad omen. Her sire was Street Cry, a proven stud that had already produced a Kentucky Derby winner in the colt Street Sense. Zenyatta’s dam, Vertigineux, was mostly unknown to casual fans of American horseracing. The breeding said that the little foal would have the physical tools necessary to win, but the next two years would be telling. Jerry Moss, the owner of the foal and a music executive that had worked with The Police, named her after one of the group’s albums, Zenyatta Mondatta.
Zenyatta was sent to trainer John Shirreffs and began her career in November of 2007 with a maiden victory at the now-defunct Hollywood Park in California. Under rider David Flores, Zenyatta looked impressive in her debut and won by three lengths. Flores would pilot Zenyatta to victory twice more and win the El Encino Stakes at Santa Anita Park, posting a record-setting time in the process. The filly was undefeated and looked primed for a stellar career. What happened next was puzzling to some.
David Flores was replaced as Zenyatta’s rider by Mike Smith, a journeyman rider most famously known for winning the 2005 Kentucky Derby on the longshot, Giacomo. Considered a more experienced veteran, Smith was chosen by Zenyatta’s connections to take her the rest of the way to greatness. Rider changes like this are not uncommon in horseracing. As soon as an owner and horse trainer spot the first sign of real talent they seek the services of what they perceive to be a better jockey. Unfortunately, riders like David Flores often get the short end of the stick. The choice to switch riders would come back to haunt Zenyatta’s connections.
In her three-year old year, Zenyatta was a perfect 7-for-7, notching wins in the Apple Blossom Stakes at Oaklawn Park and the Breeders’ Cup Distaff/Ladies Classic. For all of her success, however, some racing fans began to question Zenyatta’s willingness to challenge the best horses on the East Coast as her connections mostly preferred the California tracks that were their home. As her four-year old campaign began, Zenyatta was dogged by questions that suggested she was ducking tougher competition in favor of piling of easy wins.
In an effort to silence critics, the decision was made to enter the unbeaten filly in the Breeder’s Cup Classic against male horses. Naysayers were quick to point out, however, that the race that year was being contested at Santa Anita. Would Zenyatta have a “home field advantage” over her foes?
Zenyatta put in a spectacular effort to become the first filly to win the Classic, defeating Gio Ponti in the process. She also became the first horse in history to win two different Breeders’ Cup races. Despite her amazing successes, critics still assaulted Zenyatta’s connections for refusing to tackle the East Coast. She went on to tie and then break the all-time record for consecutive wins in unrestricted races previously held by Citation and Cigar. With 19 wins in a row, Zenyatta’s connections decided to finally leave California and test the East Coast in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs. She would be looking to repeat as world champion.
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One of Zenyatta’s particular quirks was to prance and make sideways movements as she was being led to the paddock before a race. Many people remarked that she was “dancing” for her fans. The truth is that this behavior often indicates a nervous horse..
Throughout her career Zenyatta thrilled fans with her running style. A stalker, Zenyatta frequently began her races far behind the rest of the field before unleashing a dramatic run in the stretch to win. While this was indeed spectacular to watch, it proved to be her downfall.
As the race began in Kentucky, jockey Mike Smith settled Zenyatta into her customary early position. By the time he decided to ask for Zenyatta’s trademark finish, it was too late. Smith had waited too long and Zenyatta was unable to get past Blame to win her second Classic. After the race Smith acknowledged that he had cost Zenyatta the victory. One can only wonder how the connections felt that day about the jockey change that put Smith in the saddle.
The 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic would be Zenyatta’s last race. She finished her career with an amazing record of 19-1-0. Along the way she earned over $7 million in purse money and was named 2010 Horse of the Year over the same horse that defeated her in the Breeders’ Cup. While a strong argument can be made that Zenyatta is the greatest filly to ever compete, some fans will always regard her record as tainted because they believe her connections sought out the softest races they could find. Many others cannot understand how she bested Blame in Horse of the Year voting when Blame defeated her in the Classic. Such are the questions horseracing fans will debate for years to come.
After her career was over Zenyatta entered the breeding shed and you can watch and wager on the legendary filly’s offspring by registering an account with Twin Spires or another online racebook. Sign up today for an awesome array of horse bonuses and rewards.