INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Sunday evening, several hours after Zenyatta caught a game St Trinians in deep stretch of the $250,000 Vanity Handicap to extend her unbeaten streak to 17, trainer Mike Mitchell sent John Shirreffs a text message.
Mitchell's St Trinians had given Zenyatta a scare, and Mitchell wanted to offer congratulations, with a friendly piece of advice at the end.
"I think it's time Zenyatta left California," he wrote.
Mitchell will get his wish, but probably not as soon as he would like.
Monday, both Zenyatta and St Trinians emerged from the Grade 1 Vanity in excellent condition, their trainers said. The focus now shifts to a possible rematch in the $300,000 Clement Hirsch Stakes over 1 1/16 miles at Del Mar on Aug. 7, a race that Zenyatta won in both 2008 and 2009 for her seventh and 12th career wins.
Shirreffs was hesitant to fully commit Zenyatta to the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch on Monday, although her appearance is considered a strong possibility. The decision will be made by Shirreffs, owners Jerry and Ann Moss, and Dottie Ingordo-Shirreffs, who is the trainer's wife and the racing manager for the Mosses.
Shirreffs said he wants to see how the Del Mar Polytrack surface performs in the early weeks of the meeting, which begins on July 21, before committing Zenyatta. Since it was installed before the 2007 meeting, Del Mar's synthetic surface has been inconsistent on some days, with tighter conditions during the cool and often overcast hours of morning training followed by looser conditions in the afternoon, with exposure to a strong summer sun.
"We won't really commit until we know what Del Mar is like," Shirreffs said. "When it's loose, racing is very different on it. When it's tight, training is very different on it. We have to hope they find a happy medium for it."
If Zenyatta skips Del Mar, she could be sent to the East Coast, although Shirreffs seemed cool to that idea on Monday.
"How many times do you really want to cross the country," he said. The Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs in November is Zenyatta's long-term goal.
Shirreffs emphasized that a decision on Zenyatta's next start will be made only in the days before the Clement Hirsch. "It will be very late," he said.
St Trinians may start in the Clement Hirsch. She lost her left front shoe in the Vanity. Mitchell thinks it might have happened at the quarter-pole, but declined to make excuses for the half-length loss.
"I don't want it to sound like I would have won," he said. "A lot of times they're sore on that foot, but she jogged well on it [Monday]."
St Trinians took the lead in early stretch in the Vanity, led by a half-length at the eighth pole and tested Zenyatta to the finish.
"My heart almost came out of my chest," Mitchell said. "It was such a fun race to be in."
Zenyatta's 17-race winning streak exceeds the 16-race streaks of Cigar, Citation, Hallowed Dreams, and Mister Frisky. She has equaled the winning streak of Silent Witness, who raced in Hong Kong earlier in this century, and is two short of a mark held by New Mexico star Peppers Pride, who raced from 2005 to 2008.
Zenyatta has now earned $6,074,580. Her appearance in the Vanity drew 12,232 to Hollywood Park, some of whom traveled from out of state. Sunday morning, a woman poked her head into Shirreff's stable office.
"Are you Mr. Shirreffs?" she asked the trainer. "We're here from Arizona. We came to see history."