Shortly after Zenyatta had run her unbeaten streak to 12 on Sunday with a dramatic victory by a head in the $300,000 Clement Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar, trainer John Shirreffs was asked if the Pacific Classic on Sept. 6 against males was a possibility for the brilliant mare’s next start.
“I don’t think so,” he succinctly said.
It now looks like Zenyatta will use the Lady’s Secret Stakes during Santa Anita’s Oak Tree meet as her final prep race for the Breeders’ Cup and what could be a start against the males in the $5 million Classic. If she won, she’d become the first female horse to win the Classic.
Whatever, Shirreffs made it clear Zenyatta will not be on a plane heading east anytime soon.
“For what? What would be the purpose at this particular time, especially with the Breeders’ Cup (coming up)?” Shirreffs said. “That’s what the thoroughbred industry did, they created a venue for the best horses in the country and the world now to come and race against one another. I think we need to support that.”
Of course, Jess Jackson, who happens to own a filly named Rachel Alexandra, has said he will not come to the Breeders’ Cup on Nov. 6-7 at Santa Anita because of the track’s synthetic Pro-Ride surface.
Zenyatta’s owner, Jerry Moss, said he’s not about to lobby Jackson for a change of heart.
“I don’t think we’re the people to talk him out of anything,” he said. “It’s really his horse and he can do what he wants to do.”
So it appears the stalemate continues and these two fabulous distaffers will have to wait until after the Breeders’ Cup if they’re going to meet before Zenyatta heads to the breeding shed in 2010.
After Zenyatta won by only a head Sunday, the slimmest margin of her career, the cries from Rachel Alexandra’s camp about superiority are sure to be heard.
Shirreffs, for one, can’t understand how anybody can be critical of a mare who carried a career-high 129 pounds in the Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park on June 27 in only her second start of 2009, when horses perhaps are their most vulnerable.
“I thought she had an amazing year last year,” Shirreffs said. “I mean, every race she had to step up, from maiden to allowance, to graded, to graded ones, and the competition was against the best fillies in the country — Ginger Punch, Cocoa Beach, Tough Tiz’s Sis.
“Then she’s asked to carry the most weight (in the Vanity) in 25 years. If somebody wants to be critical of that, I just don’t know how they do it.”
Especially the way Zenyatta won Sunday, overcoming terribly slow fractions — 23.86, 48.84 and 1:13.64 — and displaying a great will to win by overtaking 22-1 long shot Anabaa’s Creation by a head in the last couple of jumps.
“She exerted herself today in a big way,” Moss said. “She used a gear she maybe hasn’t used before.”
Said jockey Mike Smith: “There are more gears there.”
Somehow, we don’t doubt him.
Zenyatta is a great champion, and I wish her connections would be a little more bold and take on the boys before the Classic in either the Pacific Classic or Goodwood Handicap at Santa Anita. She’s good enough to beat the males.
But hey, it’s their horse, they want to see her retire undefeated, and why should they take any more heat than Jackson, who won’t come west because he doesn’t like synthetic tracks?
Moss and Shirreffs have a point. The Breeders’ Cup, no matter what the surface, was set up to decide championships. Jackson’s refusal to come is comparable to the Dodgers refusing to play in the World Series because they don’t like the short right-field porch at Yankee Stadium.
And the debate rages on.