09/30/2010 2:50PM

Zenyatta goes for 19 straight in Lady's Secret

Benoit & Associates
Zenyatta will go for her 19th straight victory in Saturday's Grade 1 Lady's Secret at Hollywood Park.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Not that it is apparent in her undefeated 18-race career, but Zenyatta has a time of year when she may be better than ever, jockey Mike Smith insists.

The autumn, he said, seems to bring out the best in the wildly popular mare.

“She seems to get good at this time of year the last few years,” he said. “The way she’s going, she seems like she can do it again this year.”

For her adoring fans, Smith’s thoughts are what they want to hear as Zenyatta prepares for her 19th start in Saturday’s $250,000 Lady’s Secret Stakes at the Oak Tree meeting at Hollywood Park.

The Grade 1 Lady’s Secret has been Zenyatta’s final race before the Breeders’ Cup in the last two years. In 2008, the Lady’s Secret was followed by a win in the Ladies’ Classic at Santa Anita. Last year, the Lady’s Secret was a prep race for an historic win in the BC Classic, when she became the first female to win that race. This year, the schedule is the same. The Lady’s Secret, a Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In race for the Ladies’ Classic, is Zenyatta’s final prep for the $5 million BC Classic at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6.

Trainer John Shirreffs confirms Smith’s thoughts. He has been thrilled with her condition and training since her win in the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar on Aug. 7.

“She’s been so consistent all the time,” Shirreffs said. “She’s been the same all year long. It’s unbelievable that way.”

The Lady’s Secret is the seventh race on a 10-race program on Saturday that features three other Grade 1 preps for the Breeders’ Cup – the Norfolk Stakes for 2-year-olds, the Yellow Ribbon Stakes for females on turf, and the Goodwood Stakes for 3-year-olds and up. ESPN Classic is presenting a 90-minute program from Hollywood Park from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Pacific, and ESPN will present the Lady’s Secret between college football games at approximately 4:15 p.m. Pacific.

Zenyatta will be an overwhelming favorite against five rivals, all stakes winners in their careers – Emmy Darling, Moon de French, Rinterval, Satans Quick Chick, and Switch. None are Grade 1 winners, and only Rinterval, second to Zenyatta in the Clement Hirsch, and Switch, third in the Las Virgenes Stakes in February, have placed in such races.

Confidence is not high among some rival trainers.

“Everyone is running for second, right?” said Doug O’Neill, who trains Emmy Darling.

Emmy Darling has shown speed in the past and could be joined on the front by Rinterval and Moon de French, who won the Adoration Stakes over a mile at Del Mar on Sept. 5. Switch, who won the Grade 2 Hollywood Oaks here in June, is likely to stalk the pace and could make an early move on the leaders. Trainer John Sadler does not necessarily expect that to translate to a win against Zenyatta.

“We’d have to be happy to be second,” Sadler said. “You’re hoping to run a good race.”

Zenyatta, owned by Jerry and Ann Moss, will be after her 13th Grade 1 win and ninth consecutive victory in a race at that level. She has earned $6,254,580.

The Lady’s Secret, run over 1 1/16 miles, will be Zenyatta’s fifth start of 2010, preceded by wins in the Santa Margarita Handicap at Santa Anita in March, the Apple Blossom Invitational at Oaklawn Park in April, the Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park in June, and the Hirsch.

In the Hirsch, Zenyatta chased a slow pace and closed from fifth in a six-horse field to beat pacesetter Rinterval by a neck. Rinterval, trained by Eric Reed, led by a head over Zenyatta at the eighth pole but could not sustain the advantage.

Even though the margin was the second-smallest of Zenyatta’s career, Smith said she was not fully extended in the Hirsch.

Smith said he moved Zenyatta closer to the leaders earlier than normal because the distance from the final turn to the finish line at Del Mar is 919 feet. By comparison, the same distance at Hollywood Park is 1,321 feet.

“She was well in control when she hit the front,” Smith said. “I wanted to get there a little early because that stretch is so short. Sometimes, she gets there a little faster than you plan.

“It was a good race. She had to run a good eighth of a mile and then she went back to cruising.”

Zenyatta’s backers expect the same result Saturday.