11/09/2009 12:00AM

Even her opponents hail the queen


ARCADIA, Calif. - Zenyatta's performance winning the Breeders' Cup Classic not only elicited wild reactions from her thousands of admirers on hand at Santa Anita on Saturday but also praise from the connections of several of the horses she beat. Many of them believe the undefeated mare now deserves to be named Horse of the Year.

"She beat the heck out of us," said Eoin Harty, the trainer of Colonel John, who finished fifth in the Classic. "That was probably the greatest performance I've ever seen. Fantastic. I'm happy and proud for Zenyatta and glad I was here to see that. I never saw Secretariat run but I've never seen anything like her. I'm really torn when it comes to the Horse of the Year. I'm probably Zenyatta's biggest fan, but it's also hard to forget what Rachel Alexandra did. If ever there was a year to split the award, this is it."

At the Tuesday post-position draw, Bob Baffert heralded his colleague John Shirreffs and the decision by Zenyatta's owners, Jerry and Ann Moss, to bypass the Ladies' Classic to run her against males in the Classic. And the Hall of Fame trainer exuded similar emotions immediately after his Richard's Kid finished sixth in the Classic.

"I was disappointed my horse didn't run better, but what a thrill seeing history made by Zenyatta," said Baffert. "It was the only time in horse racing that I didn't mind getting beat in a race. If they don't reward her with Horse of the Year, it would be a travesty. Zenyatta made the Breeders' Cup. And the way she won! I've never seen a crowd so captivated. It felt like a horse winning the third leg of the Triple Crown."

Christophe Clement was extremely proud of the effort his Gio Ponti turned in finishing second in the Classic. But even a four-time Grade 1 winner like Gio Ponti proved no match for Zenyatta once she came rolling alongside in late stretch.

"My horse ran very well and proved the decision to try him in the Classic was the right one," said Clement. "She's just a freak. What can I say?"

Aidan O'Brien, whose Rip Van Winkle finished a disappointing 10th as the second betting choice in the Classic, had not seen much of Zenyatta before Saturday. But he was full of admiration after the race.

"She's a great filly and a credit to all the people involved with her," said O'Brien.

Jerry Hollendorfer is the fourth-winningest trainer in the history of the sport with over 5,500 wins and has not only seen but been beaten by Zenyatta on more than a few occasions over the past couple of seasons. And he says he'll remember the 2009 Classic for a long time to come.

"This will be a standout moment for a lot of people," said Hollendorfer. "I know it is for me. What she accomplished today was a great achievement and a terrific moment for horse racing. The fans came out to see her win and they got what they wanted to see. It was a very gutsy move for her connections to run her in the Classic and they really deserve this victory. Obviously Horse of the Year will come down to the two fillies. As for me, well I'm partial to the West Coast so I'd give it to Zenyatta."

Angel Cordero Jr. has ridden some of the greatest horses in the history of racing and has seen history being made in the sport for over four decades. But he said he's never witnessed anything like what he'd just seen watching Zenyatta storm down the stretch to capture the Classic.

"That was one of the greatest moments I've witnessed in my life and I'm not only talking about horse racing," said Cordero. "She not only won but it was the way she won that made this so special because she did it with something to spare. We've now been privileged to have seen two great fillies in the same year, and it's impossible to say one was better than the other. For the good of the sport, they've got to give them both the Horse of the Year award because it just wouldn't be fair for one of them to lose. I know one thing, if they do split it, nobody will be mad."