ARCADIA, Calif. - It was the perfect end to a perfect day by a perfect filly. Zenyatta, the best older female horse in the country, completed a perfect season, secured the Eclipse Award as the best of her division, and put a popular coda on a day dedicated to the ladies by winning the $2 million Ladies' Classic on Friday at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting, the first of two days of the 25th Breeders' Cup championships.
The win was the ninth for Zenyatta, and her seventh this year. The popular filly received a rousing cheer from the crowd - estimated at 30,000 by Santa Anita officials - when she returned to the winner's circle.
Zenyatta ($3), under jockey Mike Smith, dropped back to last in the eight-horse field early in the race, then produced her typical, bold rush on the far turn. She hit the front a furlong out, then safely held off the belated bid of Cocoa Beach to win by 1 1/2 lengths.
Music Note finished third, another 1 1/2 lengths back, with Carriage Trail fourth. Hystericalady, Ginger Punch, Santa Teresita, and Bear Now completed the order of finish.
Zenyatta covered 1 1/8 miles on the synthetic Pro-Ride surface in 1:46.85, including a final furlong in 11.73 seconds.
The ease with which Zenyatta roared past her rivals left Smith awestruck.
"I've never felt something like this," said Smith, who won two of the five Breeders' Cup races run on Friday. "Those are the best fillies in the world right there. She's amazing."
Zenyatta is trained by John Shirreffs, and is owned by Jerry and Ann Moss, all of whom were winning a Breeders' Cup race for the first time.
"She's so special," Shirreffs said. "We're so blessed to have her in the barn. From the very beginning, when she started racing, she showed another dimension we didn't expect.
"She's a ray of sunshine in whatever cloudy things may come our way."
Smith, Shirreffs, and the Mosses won the Kentucky Derby together in 2005 with Giacomo, but Jerry Moss seemed even more emotional after this win than that first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs.
"This is our first Breeders' Cup win, and this will be our first champion," said Moss, who indicated Zenyatta would likely stay in training next year.
The five races run Friday all were for female horses, the first time the Breeders' Cup has packaged its races in such a manner. Nine more races were to be run on Saturday, including the richest race, the $5 million Classic, featuring 2007 Horse of the Year Curlin.
It was a hot, dry day at Santa Anita, with the air temperature reaching 92 degrees, and the surface temperature of the Pro-Ride main track another 30 degrees warmer. Several horses needed to be hosed down after their races, but none had anything seriously amiss.
This is the first Breeders' Cup at which the main track races are being run on a synthetic surface. The hot horses on the main track were Ventura, who scored a mild upset over favored Indian Blessing in the Filly and Mare Sprint, and Stardom Bound, whom Smith rode to a victory in the Juvenile Fillies to secure the 2-year-old filly Eclipse Award.
On the grass, Forever Together produced a wicked closing rush to take the Filly and Mare Turf, and Maram nosed out Heart Shaped in the inaugural Juvenile Fillies Turf.
Smith, as is his custom with Zenyatta, did little during the post parade in an attempt to keep her from getting too excited. During the post parade, Smith for the most part walked Zenyatta near the quarter pole, away from the other runners as they warmed up.
When the gates opened, Smith purposely let Zenyatta drop back to last while leaving from the rail so has to not get trapped by any other runners. The longshot Bear Now took up the running, with another longshot, Santa Teresita, in closest pursuit, through fractions of 23.71 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 48.08 seconds for a half-mile.
Smith took Zenyatta to the middle of the track as the field neared the far turn, then turned Zenyatta loose. With her long, powerful strides, she catapulted past her rivals, seeming to go strides to every one of theirs. Although she had yet to reach the front at the top of the stretch, the outcome was not in doubt. The stage was set, and she delivered.
Oak Tree at Santa Anita, 7th Race - October 24, 2008