06/13/2010 12:00AM

Late push gives Zenyatta 17th in row

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Benoit & Associates
Zenyatta rallies past St Trinians (inside) in Sunday's Grade 1 Vanity for her 17th straight career victory.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Mike Smith had been in this situation too many times in the past to panic. Zenyatta ran past the eighth pole of Sunday's $250,000 at Hollywood Park, seeking to extend her unbeaten streak to 17 races, but still trailed St Trinians by 2 1/2 lengths.

"I turned for home and I said, 'I got it easy,' " Smith said.

Then, Smith realized that the thought went through his mind too soon. St Trinians was not stopping. But St Trinians is no Zenyatta.

Closing with each stride in the final sixteenth, Zenyatta delivered a rally that was brilliant by her lofty standards to win her third consecutive running of the Grade 1 Vanity, much to the delight of a partisan crowd of 12,232, who largely came specifically to watch the champion older female of 2008 and 2009.

It may have taken longer to catch St Trinians and win by a half-length than Smith would have preferred, but the dramatic finish only added to Zenyatta's mystique.

"She got into that stride and she was there," Smith said. "I said, 'Give me one more' and she did."

Zenyatta ($3) ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.01. St Trinians, who has to be considered unlucky considering how well she ran, finished six lengths clear of Zardana in the field of six.

The victory moved Zenyatta past Cigar, Citation, Hallowed Dreams, and Mister Frisky, horses who won 16 consecutive races in North America.

With the exception of the grueling stretch run, the Vanity, Zenyatta's toughest test since her historic win against males in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita last fall, unfolded in a typical fashion for one of her races.

Zenyatta was at the back of the field of six fillies and mares for the first six furlongs, well behind Miss Silver Brook, who set an early pace of 24.05 and 47.54 seconds.

St Trinians, making her first start since a sixth-place finish against males in the Santa Anita Handicap in March, was fifth on the backstretch, with only Zenyatta behind her. The two closers began moving closer to the leaders entering the final turn. St Trinians, who was ridden by Martin Garcia, made a three-wide move on the turn to take a run on the leaders, with Zenyatta racing farther outside and staying within range.

St Trinians and Zenyatta entered the stretch four-wide and five-wide, respectively, and were the clear focus of the crowd. St Trinians led by two lengths at the eighth pole, with Zardana second at that point, a half-length in front of Zenyatta. Through the final furlong, it was Zenyatta, racing nearly in the middle of the track, who had the best momentum.

"I knew [Garcia] would take me out wide and he did," Smith said. "She had to run to get by [St Trinians] and when she did she was still pricking her ears."

Trainer Mike Mitchell was philosophical about St Trinians's loss, realizing how close he and owners Dan Capen and Laura Chavers came to pulling a historic upset.

"I thought it would be a good horse race," Mitchell said. "I wanted my mare to win the race. I thought if she saw [Zenyatta] she'd have some fight in her. I knew my more would dig in and she did. I was glad to be part of it."

Zenyatta has earned $6,074,580 in her career for owners Jerry and Ann Moss and trainer John Shirreffs. The Vanity was Zenyatta's third win in a Grade 1 this year, preceded by wins in the Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap at Santa Anita in March and the Apple Blossom Invitational in April.

Smith said Sunday's race will make Zenyatta an even tougher rival in coming starts, which he and the rest of her team hope will lead to a start in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs in November.

"What's amazing about this race is that I think she needed the race," Smith said. "I think she had an easy race first time out and she got a really easy race at Oaklawn. I think this will put her back to the [form of the Breeders' Cup] Classic and maybe better, I hope. I think this race will really move her forward."