ARCADIA, Calif. -- The first time Zenyatta ran, in what proved a preview of coming attractions she rallied from last in a 12-horse field and won going away by three lengths. In the nearly 21 months since then, she has raced long on decidedly different synthetic surfaces at Del Mar, Hollywood Park, and several permutations at Santa Anita, as well as dirt at Oaklawn Park. She has never lost.
On Saturday, in the Grade 1, $300,000 Lady's Secret Stakes at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting, Zenyatta will attempt to run her perfect record to 13, which would equal the feat of Personal Ensign 20 years ago. It should not be taken lightly. To remain this consistent, over such an extended period of time, is something to celebrate.
"I am totally amazed," said John Shirreffs, who trains Zenyatta. "To remain unbeaten through all the ups and downs of racing, different racetracks, different horses, different pace scenarios, it's amazing.
"That's something we never imagined when she started racing. And then as she has continued to win it became something that was maybe possible. And now we're on the brink of it. So it's very exciting."
Her presence, and that of Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, who runs a half-hour earlier in the Grade 1 Goodwood Stakes, makes Santa Anita, truly, the Great Race Place on Saturday. In addition to the Lady's Secret and Goodwood, the 10-race card - which begins at 12:30 p.m. Pacific - features the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon Stakes for female turf horses, and the Grade 2 Oak Tree Mile on turf. All four races are part of the Breeders' Cup's Win and You're In program, with the Lady's Secret offering an automatic berth in the BC Ladies' Classic on Nov. 6.
Zenyatta could end up in the Ladies' Classic, but the BC Classic against males on Nov. 7 remains a distinct possibility.
"I think there will be a lot of factors involved," Shirreffs said. "Zenyatta is so special to us that we want to make sure that we put her in the right race."
The Oak Tree Mile, Goodwood, and Lady's Secret -- as well as two major stakes races from Keeneland -- all will be shown live on ESPN Classic from 2 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. Pacific. In an attempt to lure crossover sports fans, the Goodwood also will be shown live on ESPN's College Football Scoreboard show at approximately 3:55 p.m., and the Lady's Secret will be shown live on ESPN2's College Football Scoreboard show at approximately 4:30 p.m.
Maybe college football analyst Lee Corso can wear a Zenyatta head?
Zenyatta has raced just three times this year. She traveled to Kentucky to run at Churchill Downs, but was scratched because of a wet track. Three weeks later, in her first start in seven months, she won the Milady Handicap against her stablemate Life Is Sweet, whose jockey, Garrett Gomez, tried every trick in the book to keep Zenyatta boxed in. Zenyatta then lugged 129 pounds to victory in the Vanity Handicap. And two months ago at Del Mar, she overcame a wide trip and overconfident handling by jockey Mike Smith by rallying furiously in the final quarter-mile to win the Clement Hirsch.
"She had to jump in and face Life Is Sweet in the Milady," Shirreffs said. "The first race off the bench she runs against a horse that has won three races in a row, including a Grade 1, and she steps up to that, and Garrett trying to keep her boxed in.
"And then her second race, which is the race that a lot of horses have a tendency to bounce coming off a long layoff, she gets 129 pounds and still was able to win.
"Then at Del Mar they go 1:13 and change for the first three-quarters and she's trailing the field, and somehow just fires an unbelievable last quarter and catches the field. So she does things that ordinary horses can't do."
The 1 1/16-mile Lady's Secret is weight-for-age, so Zenyatta will carry 123 pounds, the same as six of her seven rivals. Sweet and Flawless, 3, gets a three-pound weight break.
There are many familiar faces lined up against Zenyatta, who will break from post 5. Cocoa Beach was second to Zenyatta in last year's BC Ladies' Classic. Anabaa's Creation lost by head in the Clement Hirsch. Lethal Heat was third in the Hirsch. And Life Is Sweet will try for the third time to beat her stablemate.
"My preference would have been to run Life Is Sweet on the grass. But Mr. Wygod," Shirreffs said, referring to owner Marty Wygod, "would prefer to run her on the main track."
Life Is Sweet had a sensational spring at Santa Anita. She reeled off consecutive victories in the El Encino, La Canada, and Santa Margarita. A repeat of those races would make her the main threat to Zenyatta.
Anabaa's Creation has run two excellent races on synthetic surfaces since arriving from France, including a victory at Santa Anita in allowance company in her United States debut in April.