08/10/2009 12:00AM

Zenyatta grabs 12th win in Hirsch

Benoit & Associates
Zenyatta gets up - just barely - under Mike Smith to win Sunday's Grade 1 Clement Hirsch and extend her undefeated streak to 12 races.

DEL MAR, Calif. - Zenyatta ran her perfect record to 12 races by rallying belatedly to win the Grade 1, $300,000 Clement Hirsch Stakes, overcoming a dawdling pace and an admittedly overconfident ride from her jockey, Mike Smith, to satisfy an adoring crowd on Sunday at Del Mar.

Last in the field of seven with five-sixteenths a mile to go, Zenyatta ($2.40) was taken to the middle of the track by Smith and closed furiously to remain unbeaten. She just got up to win by a head, the smallest margin of victory in her career. She finished the final five-sixteenths of a mile in approximately 28.20 seconds, and ran the final sixteenth of a mile in less than six seconds. The final time was slow, 1:43.24, but was a function of a race shape - fractions of 48.84 seconds for a half-mile and 1:13.64 for six furlongs - that worked against Zenyatta.

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

Later, Smith said, "I underestimated the competition."

"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."

Zenyatta prevailed by a head over Anabaa's Creation, a 22-1 shot who took the lead from pacesetter Lethal Heat with a sixteenth of a mile to go. Lethal Heat finished third, three-quarters of a length farther back. Life Is Sweet, Dawn After Dawn, Tidal Dance, and Champagne Eyes completed the order of finish.

Fans were at least six deep around the paddock before the race, and every inch of every level on the terraces above the paddock was filled with fans. They 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."

Shirreffs and Jerry Moss, who owns Zenyatta with his wife, Ann, have made no commitments to her next start, but seem to be leaning toward the Lady's Secret at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting as a final prep to their year-end goal, the Breeders' Cup.

"That's what the Thoroughbred industry did, create a venue for the best horses in the country, and the world, to come together," Shirreffs said. "Certainly you want to support that."