11/30/2009 1:00AM

Crowd shows Zenyatta some love

Benoit & Associates
A crowd of 9,814 at Hollywood on Sunday said goodbye to Zenyatta, being ridden here by Steve Willard.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Zenyatta, the most popular horse in California, was sent into retirement on Sunday at Hollywood Park with a ceremony that featured the one thing her adoring fans wanted more than anything else - an appearance by the 5-year-old undefeated mare herself.

The ceremony, held between the seventh and eighth races on a program highlighted by the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby, included comments from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose speech was largely drowned out by boos from the ontrack crowd of 9,814; owners Jerry and Ann Moss; and jockey Mike Smith. The event was hosted by TVG commentator Ken Rudulph.

Moss, during brief comments, praised Zenyatta and trainer John Shirreffs. Shirreffs guided her through her 14-race campaign highlighted by an historic win in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 7.

"I can't say enough about her trainer," Moss said. "We're humbled by the event and our association with this great racehorse."

Moss and his wife received a warm ovation when they walked out of a tunnel toward the winner's circle. During a brief comment, Ann Moss said that Zenyatta "made the impossible possible. Thank you, thank you 14 times."

The adoring crowd was gathered five or six deep around the expansive winner's circle. The box seat area, which is often deserted on racedays, was full for a change. The crowd was a gain of 12 percent over the corresponding day in 2008.

While the crowd responded warmly to the people behind Zenyatta, they saved their loudest cheers for the mare. When a replay of the was shown, the crowd reacted so enthusiastically that the stretch run commentary was drowned out.

A few moments later, Zenyatta herself, ridden by regular exercise rider Steve Willard, jogged down the stretch past most of the crowd and back toward the winner's circle where Smith climbed aboard once more to end the ceremony.

Zenyatta will remain at Shirreffs's barn at Hollywood Park in coming weeks. There is even talk of another retirement ceremony at Santa Anita later this month. When she does leave to be a broodmare in Kentucky, her absence will leave a void in California racing and in the Shirreffs team. Her final days at the barn have become especially poignant.

"She always lifted the barn into a good mood," said Michelle Jensen, Shirreffs's assistant. "We were part of her family and she was part of our family."