Trainer John Shirreffs has no doubt which of Zenyatta’s 13 victories was most impressive. He doesn’t even hesitate before naming the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park in April 2008. She blew away Brownie Points and Eclipse Award winner Apple Blossom by 4 1/2 lengths, after which the runner-up and third-place finisher returned to win their next starts.
“That was absolutely her most impressive race,” Shirreffs said. “She just blew by them.”
But Shirreffs was also greatly impressed by Zenyatta’s effort in the 2008 Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park, a race in which the Brian Koriner-trained filly Silver Z opened an early 15-length lead before tiring.
“Everything was against her that day,” Shirreffs said. “She washed out in the paddock, it was like 160 degrees on the race track and she was just really upset. (Then) that horse of Brian Koriner’s, that gray horse, opened up 15 on the field, so everybody was sitting there watching, waiting to see what Zenyatta is going to do and nobody’s going after Brian’s horse.
“Before the five-eighths pole, Mike (Smith) had to start moving Zenyatta to go after Brian’s horse, so that was like a five-eighths of a mile sustained run under really bad conditions for her because she got so upset in the paddock … I thought that was a great race because she had everything go against her.”
Yet she still won by a half-length, the second-slimmest margin of victory in her carreer behind only her victory by a head in this summer’s Clement L. Hirsch at Del Mar, and she’s won seven more times since.
Shirreffs’ favorite victory with Zenyatta was her 1 1/2-length score in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic, when an adoring crowd welcomed her back with applause as Smith galloped her back to the winner’s circle.
“It was the Breeders’ Cup stage and everything,” Shirreffs said. “It’s when the East and West get together, and Cocoa Beach was coming in with a big reputation.”
Shirreffs also liked the crowd reaction before this year’s Hirsch at Del Mar.
“I thought it was absolutely spectacular, because in the paddock they were yelling and clapping and everything for her,” he said. “And then going through the tunnel, you couldn’t believe how it was in the tunnel, the yelling and screaming. It reminded me of the Derby. Everybody was so excited, and there was so much positive energy. It was great.”
The world “great” and Zenyatta seem to go hand in hand.