Talk about a show stopper, well, Zenyatta not only hogged the stage on Breeders’ Cup XXVI weekend at Santa Anita’s Oak Tree meet, she also overshadowed so many other great accomplishments and storylines the 14 World Championship races produced.
Now, don’t get wrong — Zenyatta was the 2009 Breeders’ Cup. Trainer Bob Baffert was right when he said, “What she did (Saturday) for the sport was incredible. The Breeders’ Cup, without her in the Classic, oh my God. It would have been like Friday. We’d have had two Fridays. She put about 10,000 people in the stands.”
Yes, Zenyatta is great. Fabulous. Incomparable. All the adjectives you want to use to describe a 5-year-old mare who has developed such a personality over the past year that she probably intentionally broke a length or so behind the others in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Spotted them a handicap, so to speak. Let the boys have a sporting chance.
She also had a quick answer for Life Is Sweet’s ultra-impressive victory in Friday’s Ladies’ Classic, one-upping a stablemate she had dominated in three head-to-head meetings this year with her own amazinginly emotional one-length victory in the Classic.
But how about these sidelights to a weekend that was again marked by great weather, injury-free racing and a huge two-day throng of 96,496, easily surpassing last year’s total of 82,578:
* The Brian Koriner-trained California Flag gave 82-year-old owner Keith Card a victory in the Turf Sprint. It’s been a tough year for Card, who has suffered some strokes and has not been in the best of health. But California Flag’s victory had to be great tonic for the man.
* When Dancing in Silks won the Sprint in a driving four-horse finish, it undoubtedly was great medicine for trainer Carla Gaines, who lost her brother and best horse — Nashoba’s Key — in 2008 and needed a shot in the arm. The gelding’s victory also gave jockey Joel Rosario his first Grade 1 win.
* Cloudy Knight, a 9-year-old gelding, almost pulled off a victory in the $500,000 Marathon, losing by a nose to Man of Iron and depriving Rosemary Homeister the chance to join Julie Krone as the only female jockeys to win a Breeders’ Cup race.
* European invaders Goldikova (Mile) and Conduit (Turf) successfully defended their championships from a year ago with big come-from-behind efforts. Conduit’s, in particular, was noteworty because the front-running Presious Passion ran his eyeballs out in the 1 1/2-mile event, running the half-mile in 45 seconds flat and still having enough in the stretch to hang with Conduit until the final 50 yards. What a race.
* Life Is Sweet finally emerged from Zenyatta’s shadow to post the biggest victory of her career, winning the Ladies’ Classic by 2 1/2 lengths. When she did that, Baffert knew Zenyatta was going to be tough in the Classic against the boys.
“I always thought well, maybe she’s (Zenyatta) been beating up these mares, and then when that Life Is Sweet did what she did the day before, I said, ‘Oh boy. Oh (bleep).’ (Zenyatta) had been toying with that filly.”
* Ahmed Ajtebi became the first Middle Eastern jockey to win a Breeders’ Cup when he guided the Saeed bin Suroor-trained Vale of York to the narrowest of victories over Lookin At Lucky and jockey Garrett Gomez in the Juvenile.
* Julien Leparoux won the seventh annual Bill Shoemaker Award for Breeders’ Cup excellence when he rode three winners in the two days, lifting him into No. 1 on the North American earnings list and giving him 10 Grade 1 stakes victories for the year as he bids to unseat Gomez as the Eclipse Award winner as top jockey.
Overall, it was another perfect weekend for the Oak Tree meet as Santa Anita became the first track to host the Breeders’ Cup in consecutive years. Things went so well that even one Eastern writer volunteered that maybe Oak Tree should host the event every year. Wait until guys like Nick Zito and Wayne Lukas have a chance to digest that idea.