11/09/2009 1:00AM

Shirreffs shows his wild side


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Even John Shirreffs, so reticent to join celebrations that he purposely avoids getting into the winner's circle after his horses win, got caught up in the moment after Zenyatta rallied to win the on Saturday at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting, culminating a perfect 14-for-14 career.

Shirreffs, as is his custom, watched the race without an entourage. He wandered up the stretch, about a sixteenth of a mile from the finish, and stood in a narrow pathway between the outer rail of the racetrack and the grandstand apron.

He leaped over the rail after the race, then got the fans on the apron even more frenzied by waving his arms in the air, encouraging them to make more noise. Then Shirreffs suddenly turned toward the apron, took off his ever-present, well-worn Mill Ridge Farm hat, and flung it into the crowd.

"Something had to go," he said the next day at his Hollywood Park barn. "And I didn't want to end up on Neighborhood Watch."

When Shirreffs neared the winner's circle, he was met by Headley Bell, who now runs his family's farm, Mill Ridge. Bell had a hat, but not for long.

"I need your hat," Shirreffs said.

"Take it," Bell replied.

"It was just an exciting moment," Shirreffs said of the whole postrace celebration.

As is his custom, though, Shirreffs did not get in the winner's circle photo with Zenyatta. He preferred to stand back and admire the scene. The crowd was going wild, no one had left the stands, and numerous fans were holding up signs that read "Girl Power," in honor of Zenyatta.

Shirreffs has been attuned to the love affair fans have had with Zenyatta, posting various YouTube videos of her exploits. There were gasps, cheers, oohs, and aahs on Saturday when Zenyatta arrived in the paddock, paused to hold her head high to initially observe the scene, then moved forward with her patented, leg-stretching strut.

"She has such a presence," Shirreffs said. "When John Henry stepped on the racetrack, you could see him puff up. Zenyatta does that, too, as soon as you bring her over."

Four years ago, Shirreffs won the Kentucky Derby with Giacomo. But he said the win by Zenyatta topped even the Derby.

"That was the biggest moment for me," he said. "The streak was on the line, the fans were there to see her run. A chance for Horse of the Year was on the line. She was running against one of the best Breeders' Cup Classic fields ever assembled. As they say in poker, we were all in."