11/08/2010 11:59AM

Bittersweet morning after for Shirreffs

Barbara D. Livingston
Zenyatta jogged and galloped at Hollywood Park on Wednesday.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Rain fell at Hollywood Park early Monday, but the weather did not match the mood of trainer John Shirreffs.

Two days after his star mare Zenyatta suffered her first loss, finishing a head behind Blame in an epic Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs, Shirreffs was smiling more often than not, reflecting on the mare’s remarkable career of 19 wins in 20 starts.

“I think everyone realizes what a champion she was and what an effort she made,” he said.

Zenyatta arrived back at Shirreff’s stable at about 11 p.m. on Sunday evening and was being walked shortly after dawn on Monday. For Shirreffs and his team, the process of saying goodbye to Zenyatta has started.

Her retirement has not been made official, but all indications are she will not race again. She is expected to leave for Kentucky later this month.

“We’ll get her back to her routine, get her relaxed, and she’ll be ready to move on,” Shirreffs said.

Owned by Jerry and Ann Moss, Zenyatta won 19 consecutive races, and increased awareness of racing outside of the Triple Crown.

Zenyatta will define Shirreffs’s career, which is fitting since he may be her biggest fan.

“It’s not only the emotion you feel for the horse, but the emotion the fans have and their affection toward her,” he said. “As she developed her personality, we were able to enjoy it more and more.”

There will be hundreds of visitors in coming weekends to the Shirreffs barn. The mare will have a quiet month, mostly walking with an occasional trip to the training track adjacent to the barn.

“We’ll take her out a few times and let her jog a little bit, stand for a while and jog a bit,” Shirreffs said. “We’ll let her get out and enjoy the sunshine. I want her last experience under saddle to be a positive one.”

Shirreffs recalled on Monday how warmly he was received in Louisville. Late Saturday evening, Shirreffs and his wife, Dottie, found themselves at Pesto’s, a small Italian restaurant in downtown Louisville.

Being Louisville on Breeders’ Cup weekend, the couple walked in and recognized a few faces from the racing game. For the most part, the Shirreffses had the quiet dinner they wanted. One couple asked for a photo.

But the other diners knew who was in the room. When the couple began to leave, the crowd broke into applause.