Don’t stand so close to me, I gotta see Zenyatta just one last time

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Don’t tell my wife, but I went behind her back on Saturday to see a younger woman.

Quite surprisingly, it all fell into place pretty easy. Too perfect, you could say, for some haphazard horseplay.

Out at the Coliseum with her USC friends, where the Trojans were putting their 4-0 record on the line, my wife was about to get her fix of Traveler.

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But out at Hollywood Park, with an 18-0 record on the line, I had a late-afternoon rendezvous planned with this amazing amazon named Zenyatta.

There was no secret about it: The Lady’s Secret Stakes had been on my calendar for weeks. I’d be cheating fate if I didn’t make it out there.

This all goes back to that day last November, at Santa Anita, when Zenyatta completely blindsided me. I’d heard of her reputation – all good, by the way — but there was absolutely no way to describe the goose-bump moment she produced on that stage, dancing from so far back to overtake this field of studs with a burst of power, assuredness and strength to manhandle the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Every little thing she did was magic.

Smitten at first sight? You bet. With a winning ticket to prove it.

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But then, as sometimes happens when a man has to choose between a female and his money, I did the stupid thing. I cashed in. Within moments of driving home, I realized I had cheapened whatever special moment Zenyatta and I had just had. To me, it was easier to explain to my wife that I made a few wagers, broke even, and all was good. I couldn’t lie.

Of course, Zenyatta has gotten into my head, and now my heart.

It’s bothered me almost a full year later. Redemption can be a backward walk uphill, especially after we were all led to believe that after her incredible victory, Zenyatta was about to saunter off, Garbo-esque, rarely if ever to be seen in public again.

But the public demanded an encore.

Over the past few months — once back at Hollywood Park, another time down at Del Mar – I missed the chance of seeing her again. Maybe I was just too afraid.

But things still didn’t sit right. Knowing that after Saturday’s race, win or lose, and then she’d go off to Kentucky before retiring for good, I needed some closure.

Think about the greatest female athletes you’ve seen race over the last few decades, the ones who’ve caused you to double- and triple-take, completely stolen your attention and then won’t give it back. Zenyatta has the strength and grace of Marion Jones, without the added benefits. The endorsement-powerful charm of a Danica Patrick, and the bedroom eyes of Amanda Beard, but with a much more complete body of work.

No piercings or tattoos. No extra baggage. No high maintenance. And legs that go on forever. Four of ‘em.

She made me want to be a better sportswriter.

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I stuck a couple bucks out at the pari-mutuel clerk, as nervous as a kid at his first junior-high prom, and made a simple request: Two dollars, No. 5 horse to win the seventh race. It was the very least I could do.

If Zenyatta won, it would be a very inexpensive souvenir, but something I could keep as a reminder of our last meeting.

If she lost . . . let’s not even go there. The script doesn’t call for that option.

As the 1-9 favorite, and then one horse short now of an original six-gal field, Zenyatta had a nearly impossible task of making this event Saturday memorable. It should have quick and easy.

Out in the paddock beforehand, playing to the thousands who snapped her picture, she did her usual posing and posturing, hamming it up, kicking at the ground, bowing her head.

She’s too good.

Then, on her trip around the track, she held to form, stayed after back from the gaggle, waited, waited, slipped through on the final turn, then whipped all 1,200 pounds of her past whatever was in her way — Satans Quick Chick, Switch, Emmy Darling and Moon De French. The triumph by less than a length to a predictable roar was followed by a quick bath, making her coat glisten as she pranced back on the track toward her stable, soaking in the adulation.

With all due respect, she is a drama queen.

As I stood near the finish line, still in awe as close to the rail as I could possibly be, I think that as she walked passed me, she gave me a wink.

I’ll keep this winning ticket, one last memento, in a secret place.

My wife doesn’t have to know. Right?

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