Zenyatta wows them at Oaklawn

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. -- Zenyatta established herself as one of racing's all-time greats in November, when she became the first female to win the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic. Friday, she added to her legend. Zenyatta remained undefeated in 16 starts with an easy, 4¼-length win in the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom Stakes, thrilling the ontrack crowd of 44,973.

With the performance, Zenyatta also matched the feat of Citation, Cigar and Mister Frisky of winning 16 consecutive races while competing at the top level of the sport.

"I have to say, I really believe she's even better this year," said Mike Smith, Zenyatta's regular rider.

The Zenyatta show blew into town on Tuesday, when she received a police escort from the Hot Springs airport to Oaklawn. She trained up to the Apple Blossom amid a daily crowd of media, fans and fellow horsemen, and on race day turned in arguably one of the easiest Grade 1 wins on record.

Zenyatta ($2.10) assumed her typical role at the back of the pack early in the Apple Blossom, as Be Fair broke like a shot and moved to the lead through an opening quarter in 24.07 seconds. The pacesetter was pushed along by Taptam through a half-mile in 48.19 seconds, with Zenyatta still able to see them all while racing about eight lengths off the pace at that point.

Taptam overtook Be Fair through six furlongs in 1:12.68, and as Zenyatta began her bid in earnest past the three-eighths pole, the crowd noise surged. Zenyatta rolled five wide into the stretch, then overtook her rivals to cover 1⅛ miles on a fast track in 1:50.71.

"She won really well in hand," said Smith, who was aboard Zenyatta for trainer John Shirreffs. "I would say this and her last race were pretty impressive to me. She did it well, well within herself."

Zenyatta overcame trouble to win the Grade 1 Santa Margarita at Santa Anita in her previous start March 13. The Apple Blossom on Friday was the second start of her career outside of Southern California, and as such was just her second start on dirt. Her first win on such a surface came in the 2008 running of the Apple Blossom.

"I think she was reveling getting back on dirt," said Jerry Moss, who co-owns Zenyatta with his wife, Ann.

Shirreffs said Zenyatta would now head back to Hollywood Park before plans for her next race are determined.

"I have every condition book from around the country lined up on a desk at our house," said Dottie Ingordo Shirreffs, the wife of John Shirreffs and racing manager for the Mosses.

Moss said the long-term goal is a return to the Breeders' Cup, which this year will be at Churchill Downs.

Zenyatta picked up $300,000 for her victory in the Apple Blossom, which pushed her career earnings to $5,924,580. She is a 6-year-old daughter of Street Cry.

In the Apple Blossom, Zenyatta created a minus win pool of $27,275, and a minus place pool of $145,477. There was no show wagering on the race Friday.

Taptam finished second, 1½ lengths clear of third-place finisher Be Fair.