01/06/2011 5:00PM

2010 Eclipse Awards: Zenyatta

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Tod Marks
Zenyatta was voted Horse of the Year over Blame by a margin of 128 to 102.

There are three finalists for champion older filly or mare, but the other two finalists are merely understudies to racing’s diva, Zenyatta. For the third straight year, Zenyatta is an overwhelming favorite to win this divisional title. And for the third straight year, she is a top contender for Horse of the Year, a prize that eluded her in 2008 and 2009.

Zenyatta – by Street Cry out of the Kris S. mare Vertigineux – was retired at age 6 at the end of the 2010 season and will begin a new career as a broodmare this spring. But for more than three years, she captivated racing. Her popularity, like her win streak, reached new heights in 2010. As the wins mounted – 15 in a row, 16, 17, 18, 19 – her appeal reached well beyond the cozy confines of racing. She attracted the attention of “60 Minutes” and Oprah Winfrey. Everywhere she went, crowds of adoring fans followed.

Her popularity was born of a combination of a win streak that lasted nearly three years and a personality that had her playing to swooning crowds.

“The great thing about Zenyatta is that she has a personality you can share with other people,” said her trainer, John Shirreffs. “You need to see her, need to visit her. She has this aura about her.”

That was one of the reasons her owners, Jerry and Ann Moss, brought Zenyatta back for an encore performance in 2010. Jerry Moss announced her retirement following her victory in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic, but within weeks, those closest to Zenyatta reconsidered that decision. By January, it was official – Zenyatta would remain in training another year.

Zenyatta made her first start of the year in the Santa Margarita Handicap at Santa Anita and thrilled onlookers by weaving through traffic under regular rider Mike Smith to get up and win her 15th straight race. The Santa Margarita was designed as a tune-up for an overdue showdown with Rachel Alexandra in the Apple Blossom. But just minutes before the Santa Margarita, Rachel Alexandra, the 2009 Horse of the Year, lost her 2010 debut at Fair Grounds. Rachel Alexandra did not participate in the Apple Blossom, but Zenyatta did, winning that race for the second time in three years before a raucous crowd at Oaklawn Park.

Back home at Hollywood Park, Zenyatta lugged 129 pounds and ran down the talented St Trinians to win the Vanity, her third victory in that race. Then it was on to Del Mar, where she won the Clement Hirsch, also for the third straight year.

As in 2008 and 2009, Zenyatta’s campaign was focused on getting to the Breeders’ Cup in the best way possible. So, sticking with what had worked previously, Zenyatta prepped in the Lady’s Secret for the third straight year. As in the Vanity, victory seemed in doubt with a furlong remaining. But Zenyatta lowered her head and surged powerfully in the closing yards to catch Switch and run her record to 19 for 19, with 13 of those wins in Grade 1 races.

In her final start, Zenyatta tried for a second straight victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Facing 11 males, she passed all of them but Blame, the overwhelming favorite to be named champion older male and the other primary contender for Horse of the Year.

Zenyatta, who was bred by Maverick Productions, Limited, ended her magnificent career 19 for 20. But does anyone think any less of her because of the loss? Hardly. Her courageous rally in her final start was roundly hailed as one of her best performances and won over her few intractable skeptics, those flat-Earth believers who failed to appreciate what a remarkable feat it was to remain unbeaten, and in top form, for nearly three years.

Whether she wins one Eclipse Award or two, there is no doubt that Zenyatta will go down as one of the greatest racemares of all time, if not the greatest.

PAST PERFORMANCES: Zenyatta's 2010 season PPs (PDF)

KEY RACE REPLAY: Lady's Secret at Oak Tree at Hollywood Park >>