10/04/2010 2:03PM

Smith prefers to avoid thinking about end of the line for great Zenyatta

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Benoit & Associates
"It would be unbelievable to finish 20-0," said jockey Mike Smith. "How do you describe it?"

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Da-DING Ding.

Mike Smith’s cell phone sat on a table in the Hollywood Park press lounge late Saturday afternoon and seemed to come alive every minute with a chime, indicating the arrival of a new text message.

Less than two hours earlier, Smith had ridden Zenyatta to a win in the $250,000 Lady’s Secret Stakes, extending her unbeaten streak to 19 races. Across the nation, Smith’s friends were offering near-constant modern-day congratulations. By the time he was done riding on Saturday, he had 84 messages.

“I’ll answer them,” he said. “All of them.”

Such are the obligations for Zenyatta’s jockey. Everyone, from fans to friends across the country, wants a moment of attention.

Smith, a member of racing’s Hall of Fame, has ridden Zenyatta in 16 of her wins, including the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita and three consecutive runnings of the Lady’s Secret Stakes. The $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6 will be her final start.

“It would be unbelievable to finish 20-0,” he said. “How do you describe it? She’d be the best of all time.”

Late last week, Smith tried to avoid thinking about the Lady’s Secret too much but wound up anxiously studying the race, not wanting to let down owners Jerry and Ann Moss, trainer John Shirreffs, or the mare’s huge fan base.

“I had to open the Form ,” he said. “What if this happens, what if that happens? It never stops. Riding her carries a lot of responsibility. The fans that adore her, I feel the pressure from them.”

Smith is even dreading the BC Classic, to an extent. He said his emotions got the better of him on Friday night when he realized that the Lady’s Secret would be her second-to-last race.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said when asked about her retirement. “I thought it last night and I laid in bed and cried.”

He would have been in tears if Zenyatta’s late rally in the Lady’s Secret had not carried her to the front in the final 25 yards, in time for a half-length win over the stakes-winning 3-year-old filly Switch.

Zenyatta trailed Switch by three lengths at the eighth pole and by approximately two lengths with a sixteenth of a mile remaining, and needed the entire stretch to reach the front.

“I probably could have let her run a little around the turn,” Smith said. “Sometimes when I do that though she hits the front a little too soon and she starts to idle. It’s pretty amazing. She runs as fast as she has to.”

Smith emphasized after the race that the Lady’s Secret distance of 1 1/16 miles is below the ideal trip for Zenyatta. He stressed that she will be better over 1 1/4 miles in the BC Classic.

“Going a mile and a sixteenth is a sprint for her,” Smith said. “She’ll be better going a mile and a quarter. She hit a couple of gears today.

“Going into the Breeders’ Cup, we got a good race under her belt. She galloped out really strong. She was well within herself. The master goal at the end of the year has been the Classic.”

To date, Smith argues that Zenyatta has never displayed a maximum effort in her wins. Even when she rallied from last to win the 2009 BC Classic or used the same style to win the Vanity Handicap over St Trinians by a half-length in June, Smith insists she was not running at top speed.

“So far, she hasn’t,” Smith said. “I hope we never have to find that out.”