Despite owner Jerry Moss’ apparent eagerness to raise the bar for his unbeaten mare Zenyatta, it appears trainer John Shirreffs will choose the safe route and keep racing the 5-year-old daughter of Street Cry against other distaffers for the time being.
After Zenyatta returned from a seven-month absence to win the $150,000 Grade II Milady Handicap at Hollywood Park on Saturday, Moss told reporters in the winner’s circle that he was more willing to race against males this year, that last year they tried to protect Zenyatta in an effort to earn the Eclipse Award for top older female that she ended up winning.
But Moss lets Shirreffs make the decisions, and why not? There are few trainers around the Southland with better win percentages than the former marine, who is not fond of racing females against males. Shirreffs does not believe it’s a good idea to race Zenyatta against males at a mile and one quarter in only her second race back. Can’t blame him there.
But some point this season, if the Zenyatta camp wants its brilliant mare to be mentioned with the best distaffers of all time, they are going to have to raise the bar and try the boys. Personal Ensign did it, winning the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga in 1988, and finished her career 13-0. Lady’s Secret did it too, defeating the boys four times in 1986 at age 4 en route to Horse of the Year laurels and is regarded as one of the best of all time.
For Zenyatta, it won’t be the Hollywood Gold Cup. It won’t be the Pacific Classic at Del Mar because Shirreffs does not like the Polytrack surface. It looks like the only two options would be the Goodwood Handicap during the Oak Tree meet or the Breeders’ Cup Classic a month later. Problem is, Moss also owns Tiago, one of the best older handicap stars on the West Coast, and he figures to be a candidate for those two races as well.
They could ship east and try the Whitney at Saratoga during the summer or the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park about a month before the Breeders’ Cup. The latter option probably is not a viable one because Shirreffs does not want Zenyatta traveling that close to the Breeders’ Cup.
So it’s entirely possible that Zenyatta’s 2009 campaign, one that would include the Vanity, the Clement L. Hirsch at Del Mar, the Lady’s Secret at Oak Tree and the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic to round out her career, will not feature a race against the boys. My guess? If she does race against the males, it will be the Whitney, which is far enough out from the Breeders’ Cup to suit Shirreffs.
So what do you think? If Zenyatta never races against the boys, will it harm her legacy even if she finishes her career undefeated?