08/09/2009 11:00PM

Zenyatta does whatever it takes to win

Benoit & Associates
Zenyatta needed to run her last quarter-mile in 22.49 seconds to overtake Anabaa's Creation by a head.

DEL MAR, Calif. - There is a hammock just outside the stable office at the barn of trainer John Shirreffs, and that's where he was lounging Monday morning, looking far more becalmed than those who witnessed Zenyatta's heart-stopping victory in the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch Stakes on Sunday at Del Mar.

"It was a late night," Shirreffs said.

The Hirsch was the 12th victory for the unbeaten Zenyatta, who rallied belatedly to win by only a head, the smallest margin of her career. She overcame a dawdling pace and an admittedly overconfident ride from her jockey, Mike Smith, to just catch Anabaa's Creation.

"I underestimated the competition," Smith said.

Zenyatta finished furiously to prevail. The Trakus equipment at Del Mar recorded Zenyatta running the final quarter-mile in 22.49 seconds, and reaching her peak speed at the end of the race, when it clocked her going 40 miles per hour.

"Did I scare ya?" Smith yelled to Shirreffs when he brought Zenyatta back to the winner's circle.

"I was tracking Life Is Sweet," Smith said of the race's second choice, also trained by Shirreffs. "When she made her move, I made my move. But the leaders skipped away. But she reached out with that stride, and she was just pricking her ears. She galloped out like a machine. That last quarter-mile she felt like a Quarter Horse. And she wasn't even breathing after the race.

"She was running so fast off the turn she kind of spun out of it a little bit. Great horses always seem to find a way."

Shirreffs is in no hurry to bring Zenyatta back to the races. He ruled out the Grade 1 Pacific Classic against males here on Sept. 6, meaning Zenyatta will make her next two starts during the Oak Tree meeting at Santa Anita. The first start is obvious - the Grade 1 Lady's Secret Stakes on Oct. 10. Then comes the Breeders' Cup on Nov. 6 and 7. Zenyatta won the BC Ladies' Classic last year, but Shirreffs and owners Jerry and Ann Moss are entertaining thoughts of the Classic, against males.

"We'll wait and see who is running in the Breeders' Cup, what the opposition is, and what's most advantageous," Shirreffs said Monday. "Right now, we just have to be patient."

Those connected with Zenyatta are desirous of a matchup with Rachel Alexandra, the country's best 3-year-old filly. If both continue to win, a race involving those two would undoubtedly determine Horse of the Year. But Jess Jackson, the majority owner of Rachel Alexandra, has stated repeatedly that the Breeders' Cup is out for his filly.

"If they," Shirreffs said, referring to Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, "are going to decide Horse of the Year, I would hope it could be settled at the Breeders' Cup. If it isn't, and we think we have the opportunity to win it, then we'll have to go travel after the Breeders' Cup.

"The Breeders' Cup being what it is, that would be a great setting for that decision. That's what the Thoroughbred industry did, create a venue for the best horses in the country, and the world, to come together. Certainly you want to support that."

There was plenty of support for Zenyatta on Sunday. Fans began congregating at the paddock one race before the Hirsch. They were lined at least six deep around the paddock, and every inch of every level on the terraces above the paddock was filled with fans.

"This is like being in the paddock for the Kentucky Derby," said trainer Bob Baffert, witnessing the scene.

The fans cheered Zenyatta when she left the paddock, but saved their biggest cheer for when she returned to the winner's circle, a moment that brought a smile to Shirreffs's face.

"What Zenyatta has done is incredible," Shirreffs said. "To race at a high level, in Grade 1 competition, and continue to win over and over is a measure of her class and constitution. She's never faltered one time. Every time she goes out, she wins."

Zenyatta went off at 1-5, equaling the shortest price of her career. She had $550,043 of the $632,212 show pool bet on her, which resulted in a minus pool of $95,010.