03/11/2010 12:00AM

Zenyatta a total pro in the morning, too

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Barbara D. Livingston
Zenyatta has had 81 workouts over the last three years and nine months.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The high-profile numbers in Zenyatta's career are easy to remember - 14 wins, 2 championships, and 0 career losses.

To get there, Zenyatta has had 81 workouts over the last three years and nine months. And as brilliant as her races have been to her adoring fans, her workouts have left trainer John Shirreffs with the same impression. Since the first time she worked, Shirreffs says he has never walked away disappointed from one of Zenyatta's workouts.

"I can't remember that," Shirreffs said last weekend.

Considering how much she has accomplished, Shirreffs may never be disappointed. Workouts seem to be one more aspect of racing that Zenyatta has conquered.

The champion older female of 2008 and 2009, Zenyatta launches her 2010 campaign in Saturday's $250,000 Santa Margarita Handicap at Santa Anita, her first start in more than four months.

Following her spectacularly popular win in the Breeders' Cup Classic here in November, when she became the first female to win that race, owners Jerry and Ann Moss announced she would be retired and bred. There were glowing retirement ceremonies between races at Hollywood Park on Thanksgiving weekend and at Santa Anita on Dec. 26. Heck, even California's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, showed up at Hollywood Park to send her off.

All the while, Zenyatta continued working, putting in three four-furlong workouts between Dec. 7 and Jan. 6, which Shirreffs described as maintenance works to keep her from becoming too eager in daily training before being sent to Kentucky to be bred. Three weeks after the Santa Anita ceremony, on Saturday, Jan. 16, the Mosses reversed course and announced that Zenyatta would stay in training and race as a 6-year-old in 2010.

WORKOUTS SINCE LAST RACE

Zenyatta

Date Distance Track Condition Time Effort Rank
3/5/10 6F Fast 1:11.80 Handily 1/13
2/26/10 6F Fast 1:13.20 Breezing 4/15
2/18/10 6F Fast 1:14.00 Breezing 1/4
2/11/10 6F Fast 1:13.80 Breezing 2/5
2/3/10 5F Fast 1:01.60 Breezing 5/8
1/25/10 5F Fast 1:00.20 Breezing 10/74
1/17/10 5F Fast 1:01.40 Breezing 22/47
1/6/10 4F Fast    48.00 Handily 5/18
12/21/09 4F Fast    49.40 Breezing 19/35
12/7/09 4F Fast    50.40 Breezing 8/17

Rachel Alexandra

Date Distance Track Condition Time Effort Rank
3/8/10 4F Fast    49.00 Breezing 13/105
3/2/10 6F Fast 1:36.60 Breezing 1/2
2/24/10 6F Fast 1:14.00 Breezing 1/2
2/18/10 5F Fast 1:00.20 Breezing 2/20
2/12/10 5F Sloppy 1:03.80 Breezing 2/2
2/6/10 4F Fast    50.60 Breezing 51/76
1/31/10 4F Fast    52.00 Breezing 88/101

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The next day, Shirreffs began the serious work to have Zenyatta ready for the Santa Margarita. Zenyatta worked five furlongs in 1:01.40 on Jan. 17, and has had six subsequent workouts to prepare for the start of the 2010 campaign.

None of those left Shirreffs as impressed as her six-furlong workout in 1:11.80 at Hollywood Park on March 5. Zenyatta has had faster six-furlong works in her career, but none that left Shirreffs as enthused about her condition.

Each time Zenyatta works fast over six furlongs, she runs one of her better races, notably her work in 1:11.20 two weeks before the BC Classic last fall, and in 1:10.20 last April, six weeks before her 2009 debut in the Grade 2 Milady Handicap at Hollywood Park.

"I like the correlation," Shirreffs said, grinning.

Shirreffs is not the sort of trainer to rely on fast workouts to keep his horses ready. What he has seen from Zenyatta since mid-January has left him with the impression that she should pick up her career where she left off.

The pattern to get back to racing has been predictable. Zenyatta spent a period of time walking at the barn, followed by tack-walking at the barn, jogging on the track, and then galloping before beginning a workout regiment once every six to seven days.

"About three weeks after the Breeders' Cup, she started to sharpen up," Shirreffs said. "It's been pretty much the same all along. Now she has a little more wind. That's the big difference. She's probably put on 25 pounds. It's hard to say with her because she's so big. She looks really strong.

"As a trainer you always hope they do a little better than you expect. The opposite is disappointing when they do less than you expect."

"The variables to the schedule are dictated by Zenyatta," he said. "It's what the horse allows you to do," Shirreffs said. "You've got to listen. She can get a little on her toes."

On some days, Zenyatta is asked to do very little. Last Sunday, for example, her first day back on the track since the six-furlong workout on March 5, she was given a leisurely jog for one circuit on the Hollywood Park main track. She was ridden by her regular exercise rider, Steve Willard, and accompanied by a stable pony. Compared with her flashy workout two days earlier, the brief session was rather boring. Monday, she resumed galloping in preparation for Saturday's race.

The low-key days are essential, too, Willard says. Shirreffs "always wants to do enough to progress forward, but not overdo it," Willard said. "With a horse like this, it's easy to ask them to do more than she needs to do."

Asked to grade Zenyatta's workouts in recent weeks, Shirreffs described them as "very good."

"She's done everything we've asked of her willingly," he said.

On a daily basis, Zenyatta is part of the last group of Shirreffs's horses sent to the track. At Hollywood Park, which has a barn area that is far from fully occupied, the track is largely deserted at that time of the morning. Shirreffs has essentially found a way to turn the 1 1/8-mile main track into a private training center for his two-time champion.

"We like to take her out when it's quiet," Shirreffs said.

For most of her career, Zenyatta has been ridden on a daily basis by Willard, a 66-year-old former jockey. He has not been aboard Zenyatta as much in the last few months, owing to a bout with a sciatic nerve, but he returned to the stable in late February. While he was away, Isabel Bourez, a former jockey from France, was Zenyatta's exercise rider.

Since his return, Willard has noticed a slight change in Zenyatta.

"She feels better than she did, more straightforward," he said. "She's as good if not a little better. She settled into her routine and was very professional."

From Willard's perspective, Zenyatta was always destined to be an outstanding racehorse, but what has occurred since her debut at Hollywood Park in November 2007 could not have been predicted.

"She had so much talent to start with," he said. "We knew before she ran her first race, if we got lucky, she could be one of the best horses we've ever had. It's a lot of fun the way the fans take to her. It's good for the racing game. She gives you goosebumps even when I'm getting on her galloping."