Shirreffs taking it one race at a time with Zenyatta

It’s been a little more than three months since Rachel Alexandra won out over Zenyatta in a spirited Horse of the Year race that was as hotly debated as any in recent memory.

Since that January night at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in California, Zenyatta has run her record to 16-0 with a pair of Grade 1 victories while Rachel Alexandra was upset in her 2010 debut at the Fair Grounds on March 13 and hasn’t raced since.

Zenyatta will probably make her third start of the year in the Grade 1 Vanity Handicap on June 13 at Hollywood Park if she’s not assigned the grandstand when weights are issued. The Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs the day before also is a possibility.

When Rachel Alexandra races again is anybody’s guess. Owner Jess Jackson is not talking, and he — not trainer Steve Asmussen — is usually the one who announces where and when the 4-year-old filly will run next.

On Wednesday, during opening day of Hollywood Park’s spring-summer meet in front of a sparse on-track turnout of 3,487, Zenyatta’s trainer John Shirreffs was asked if he harbors any bitterness over the fact his 6-year-old mare has two Breeders’ Cup victories, including the first ever by a female in the prestigious Classic, and 16 wins without a defeat but zero Horse of the Year titles.

“It’s hard to have any bitterness when it involves Zenyatta,” Shirreffs said. “She’s such a special gift and we’re really blessed to have her. And you know, that’s (Horse of the Year vote) a popularity poll. The other filly accomplished a lot, and the arguments go both ways. We’re just happy Zenyatta won the Breeders’ Cup Classic and accomplished so much.”

Despite the fact Zenyatta’s won both her starts on dirt by more than four lengths, there are still skeptics out there who label her a synthetic-track specialist. Never mind the victories were the only races she’s won by more than four lengths, they refuse to give her any credit.

Shirreffs only smiles when reminded of this. He, along with everyone else who has seen the daughter of Street Cry run on a regular basis, know she’s a better horse on dirt. She’s actually compromising her chances when she runs on a synthetic surface. She’s won twice over a track — Del Mar — that she detests.

“We always said she liked dirt, that it was her preferred surface, but that’s not what we have here (in California),” Shirreffs said. “She’s just so talented.”

Despite published reports, Shirreffs says a decision hasn’t been made whether Zenyatta will run in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6 or the Ladies’ Classic the day before. He’s taking each race one at a time.

“It’s (too) early,” he said. “I think she accomplished so much last year it’s not about what she can accomplish this year, it’s more about letting other people enjoy her and let the fans have some fun with her.”

Shirreffs said Zenyatta will race outside of California again before the Breeders’ Cup, that his wife Dottie, who serves as racing manager for owners Jerry and Ann Moss, has every condition book from around the country on her desk to help pick and choose.

“She knows what’s going on,” Shirreffs said.

Still, he and the Mosses don’t want to keep Zenyatta on the road the rest of the year.

“You can’t ship every race, that’s impossible,” he said.

5 thoughts on “Shirreffs taking it one race at a time with Zenyatta

  1. Dear Zenyatta Connections,

    You have a mare that could be the greatest racehorse of either sex, ever. She has yet to be tested! But all our love won’t make her the greatest. Only Zenyatta can prove that on the track. Greatness is not about being a rock star, it’s about beating the best to the wire. Zenyatta loves to do that, she wants to do that! So it’s horrifying to read that she may run in the Vanity and may not run in the Classic.

    Back to the old beat-up-on-fillies routine? Play it safe so Zenyatta can catch up to Peppers Pride? Peppers Pride raced only state bred fillies. Zenyatta, on the other hand, raced only fillies except once. Fifteen of her races have been restricted to fillies. When they say she’s 16 for 16 in unrestricted races and has equaled the record of Cigar it is not true. Race writers today give her a pass on that but, believe me, racing history won’t.

    You have a horse for the ages. Don’t waste her on a misleading record! Anyway, the Hungarian filly Kinscem went 54 for 54. Why wrangle a low weight so she can trash horses that don’t have a chance? Zenyatta wants the Stephen Foster so she can beat up on Quality Road or whoever shows up in a truly unrestricted race. If you go the Vanity route (pun intended) maybe Rachel will show up in both senses of the word and save Zenyatta again. Except for her Zenyatta would have retired with the same number of wins as Personal Ensign but nobody would think she was as good – not even if she’d won HOY.

    Yes it is about what she accomplishes on the track, the rock star stuff fades away.

  2. Brigitte … Zenyatta has yet to be tested? The Breeders’ Cup Classic wasn’t a test? I wasn’t aware and I don’t think the rest of the racing world is either that Zenyatta has raced in a restricted race. Restricted to what? Hmmm … Also, comparing her to Peppers Pride? Wow! Zenyatta has a misleading record? Again, wow! Keep posting, you’ll keep us all entertained!

  3. Happy to entertain, Eng. It would have been even more entertaining if you’d read it more carefully.

    Zenyatta wasn’t tested in the Classic because she won it as easily as all her other races. She disposed of all those G1 winners as if it was nothing! It was the greatest race of the year and to my mind of many years but we still don’t know how good Zenyatta is.

    Races restricted to fillies are not comparable to the races Cigar or Citation won. Don’t you think Zenyatta might be as good as Cigar or Citation? I find the possibility much more thrilling than seeing Zenyatta win more races she should win. Nobody will say Zenyatta is better than Cigar or Citation if she goes back to filly races and runs in the Ladies Classic.

    As for long streaks, they are impressive, even in restricted races. But Zenyatta’s Classic is more impressive than all the rest. Secretariat lost, it’s the ones he won that will keep his memory alive forever.

    Winning the Foster would also stand out. Winning the Vanity won’t.

  4. Brigitte,

    The Grade I Vanity has been in existence since 1940. Zenyatta is trying to win three Vanity Handicaps. No one has EVER accomplished this feat (not even the “Horse of the Year”, Azeri).

    Your quite ignorant and I’m here to inform you of how prestigious the Vanity is on the west coast.

    Stay back east Brigitte, you haven’t a clue and the more you open your mouth, the more you insert foot.

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