08/04/2008 11:00PM

Frog turns into leading lady


DEL MAR, Calif. - If we're lucky, Jerry Moss, owner of the undefeated Zenyatta, will announce later in this column where his 4-year-old filly sensation will be racing next.

The highly anticipated Moss announcement is coming just a few days after Zenyatta ran her record to a perfect 7 wins in 7 starts by taking the $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Handicap at Del Mar.

The announcement follows closely on the heels of the revelation that Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Haskell Invitational winner Big Brown will not be running in the Travers, as well as the announcement by owner Jess Jackson that reigning Horse of the Year Curlin - who has won exactly one race in North America through the first seven months of 2008 - will be appearing next in the Woodward Stakes on Aug. 30.

(As an aside, the details surrounding the announcement regarding the next appearance of Big Brown are not yet available, pending SEC approval. In the wake of the Haskell, managing owner Michael Iavarone suggested that some track somewhere might want to create a race just to attract Big Brown, after which NYRA CEO Charles Hayward was heard to mutter, "We already did. It's called the Woodward.")

Meanwhile, Del Mar was still buzzing like a beehive over the latest exhibition of Zenyatta on the hoof. Moss was stopped more than once late last Saturday afternoon by seasoned racetrackers who were left bug-eyed and breathless at the sight of Zenyatta's performance, in which she inhaled the field in the final furlong to win under absolute wraps.

"One fellow told me it was the greatest race he'd ever seen," Moss said. "He was still a little dazed. All I could say was, 'Thanks, man.'"

Moss and his wife, Ann, are the kind of owners it figures would come up with a Zenyatta. She enjoyed a career as an internationally famous model, and he was the "M" in the A&M Records empire. As racehorse owners and breeders, their runners were steady and occasionally spectacular until they were completely exposed by Giacomo's 50-1 upset of the 2005 Kentucky Derby.

Four months later, at Keeneland September, they paid only $60,000 for Zenyatta as a yearling, which is not meant not to diminish the value of $60,000, but only to supply perspective in a game that throws money to the wind on nothing more than a pedigree and a prayer.

"Oscar Wilde said that a cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing," Moss said. "If people just regard things by price, that's just plain foolish. I respect money tremendously, but you can't run your life by thinking that if something is less expensive than you would normally think it is, then it has no value.

"As a yearling she was big and beautiful," Moss went on. "She just had this skin rash. We were prepared to go much higher for her, and when the hammer stopped, I just wanted to make sure it was us. Kiss a frog, see what happens."

Now the frog with the complexion problem has turned into Angelina Jolie.

"Every credit goes to John," Moss said, referring to trainer John Shirreffs. "He's been so patient with her. She's big and she needed time. There are a lot of very large moving parts. I take no credit, other than to admit I am a very lucky man. If some of my luck seems to have gotten into the equine part of my life, so be it. I'll accept the credit for being lucky."

Compared to her previous win in the Vanity at Hollywood, where she was washy and too much on her toes, Moss saw Zenyatta's Hirsch effort as thoroughly professional.

"She just looked so cool, then she went out there and proved just how cool she was," he said. "Obviously, the Vanity was an off day for her, and she won anyway, rather handily.

"The really good horses are like that," Moss added. "They handle everything, and they do their job no matter what's presented to them. That's what made Cigar such a remarkable horse. That's why the greatest race I ever saw was Personal Ensign and Winning Colors in that Breeders' Cup Distaff."

The significance is not lost. Personal Ensign overcame a loathing for a muddy Churchill Downs track that day in 1988 to beat the Derby winner by a nose and end her career with a 13-0 record. Moss was there, ostensibly to watch his horse Ruhlmann in the Sprint. But as far as he is concerned the day belonged to the perfect 4-year-old filly.

"In the cold, and the mud, and the rain - it was unbelievable," Moss said. "I had tears in my eyes."

The fact that the Breeders' Cup will be run at Santa Anita this year limits the creativity of a campaign for a superstar like Zenyatta. Her win in the Apple Blossom proved she can take her game out of town, but with the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic dangling as Zenyatta's final goal of the season on Oct. 24, there is not much sense in a journey east for such historic preludes as the Ruffian or the Beldame at Belmont Park. The Lady's Secret at Santa Anita on Sept. 27 is the likely spot. What does the owner say?

"As I've always said, you've gotta ask John," Moss said. "I'm just the guy in the background."