Updated on 08/15/2010 11:04PM

Zenyatta runs her perfect record to 18 in Hirsch

Benoit & Associates
Zenyatta, with Mike Smith up, scores her 18th consecutive victory in the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch at Del Mar.

DEL MAR, Calif. - Zenyatta extended her historic winning streak to 18 races in Saturday’s $300,000 Clement Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar.

Zenyatta’s neck victory in the Grade 1 Hirsch, her fourth win of the year, was not her flashiest win of the season, the fastest, or against the toughest competition, but she overcame a slow pace to run down pacesetter Rinterval.

An enthusiastic crowd of 32,536, unconcerned about technical matters such as the final time or the strength of the field, roared when Zenyatta reached the front on her way to extending her winning streak.

Jockey Mike Smith never struck Zenyatta with the whip, and did not need to. But he did urge the mare with a hand-ride in deep stretch to maintain her advantage. He sensed she even loafed a bit in the final sixteenth-mile after taking the lead.

“She was geared down, and I think she thought that was enough,” Smith said. “She pretty much had it under control. They way she did run was very, very impressive. She did what she had to do to get the job done.”

Zenyatta ($2.20) finished 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.03. Princess Taylor finished third, 2 1/4 lengths behind Rinterval, and was followed by Spring Style, Dance to My Tune, and Made for Magic in the field of six.

Rinterval set a slow pace of 25.41 and 50.61 seconds for the first half-mile, with Zenyatta in fifth, racing about 7 1/2 lengths behind the pace. Smith began moving Zenyatta closer to the leaders on the backstretch, and the 6-year-old mare made a sweeping move while four wide to reach contention in early stretch.

Smith’s confidence in Zenyatta’s chances grew on the backstretch.

“At the half-mile pole, I knew she’d run her race,” he said. “I came around the far turn, I got by [Made for Magic], and I thought, I’ll play it safe and go around. She probably hit the front too soon. When I hit the front, she pulled herself up and geared way down.”

The champion older female of 2008 and 2009, Zenyatta was not a certain runner until the morning of the race, after trainer John Shirreffs discussed the condition of Del Mar’s Polytrack surface with track officials. Shirreffs was concerned about the condition of the track early Saturday, particularly the dry nature of the course. After the surface was extensively watered about 7:30 a.m., Shirreffs went forward with plans to run.

“After the renovation, the track was fine,” he said.

Shirreffs was not surprised by Zenyatta’s antics in the final furlong.

“She always does that,” he said. “When she passes the last horse, she thinks it’s over.”

The Hirsch was Zenyatta’s first start over 1 1/16 miles since last October. She has raced over 1 1/8 and 1 1/4 miles since last November.

Rinterval made her first appearance in a Grade 1 in the Hirsch, having been second in the Grade 3 Chicago Handicap at Arlington Park on July 4. Rinterval races for Jerry Jamgotchian and trainer Eric Reed.

“She ran her heart out like she always does and she fought back, but the champ fought back as much as we did,” Reed said. While smiling, he said, “I guess for the crowd, it was better that we got beat, but not for me.”

Princess Taylor, an Irish-bred 6-year-old, made her first appearance in a Grade 1 in the Hirsch for owner Ronan Lambe and trainer Paddy Gallagher.

The Hirsch was Zenyatta’s 12th win in a Grade 1 and eight consecutive appearance at that level, a span that includes a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic against males at Santa Anita last November when she became the first female to win that race. Owners Jerry and Ann Moss announced after that race that Zenyatta would be retired but changed their minds in January, opting to keep her in training this year.

The BC Classic at Churchill Downs this November is a long-term goal, with an undetermined prep race, likely on Oct. 2, in between. That prep race could be the Zenyatta Stakes at Santa Anita (which until last year was known as the Lady’s Secret Stakes), or the Beldame Stakes at Belmont Park.

By Street Cry, Zenyatta has won three consecutive runnings of the Hirsch, which was her first start since the Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park on June 13. Zenyatta has earned $6,254,580.