Zenyatta: extended perfect record to 16 in the Apple Blossom on FridayPICTURE: Edward Whitaker
Zenyatta-mania grips the States after sweet sixteen
WORLD CLASS: an analysis of the best performances of last week according to Racing Post Ratings
TOP OF THE CLASS: Zenyatta 123+
Trainer: John Shirreffs (US)
Apple Blossom Invitational Handicap, 1m1f, April 9
ZENYATTA-MANIA has gripped the west coast of America and now it is spreading.
Dedicated fans arrived in their hundreds to cheer the great mare off the plane in Arkansas, hoisting placards like "Marry me, Zenyatta" and "Run like a girl".
The frenzy around the colossal six-year-old seems to be growing race by race and if marriage proposals are on the table this early in the campaign one can only imagine what the superstar can expect at the Breeders' Cup in November.
She is stealing hearts across the US and it is not only because of her flawless career record, nor just for the character she shows in playing up to the big occasion, prancing and bowing for the crowd, but it is also for what she represents as a female dominating in the predominantly male world of racing.
Oaklawn Park racegoers received the full Zenyatta treatment on Friday, as she dealt out one of the cosiest victories of her life in the Apple Blossom Invitational and then proceeded to skip and bow to her public in the grandstand, who reciprocated with an uplifting roar.
Such an occasion is a rarity in racing and connections were understandably swept away with the moment, with owner Jerry Moss reflecting: "It's really something overwhelming at times."
His horse, after twice failing to land Horse of the Year honours, has finally started to receive due credit for her incredible career - Zenyatta is fast becoming a national icon.
Having extended her perfect record to 16, her ever-doting fan base of ‘Zennies' were on hand to make the occasion allthe more memorable, giving her the rousing reception she fully deserved.
This Zenyatta-mania is not a one-way street, however. Far from it. While the fans may follow her avidly, taking pictures, posting videos on YouTube, waving banners, cheering for her and shouting requests for her to 'dance', Zenyatta always, without exception, repays them with the performance of a true star.
With such supreme ability she did not need to create a niche for herself as a showgirl,but it all comes as part of the queen-size package that is Zenyatta - and America loves it.
Regular rider Mike Smith believes she is better than ever this year and, of Friday's success, said: "She did it well, well within herself."
Four-and-a-quarter lengths was the official margin back to Taptam, but if Smith was to have pressed the button the distance could have been anything.
A winning RPR of 123+ features just below her previous figure from the Santa Margarita Invitational (124+), but it still represents a performance of the highest calibre.
It should be remembered that, with her hold-up style of racing, and with Smith eager never to push for a maximum output, her superstar status is likely to prove a much better guide to her greatness than any handicap figure ever could.
The giant daughter of Street Cry has only got one way of doing things, but it is mighty effective.
Her tried and tested wait-and-pounce routine may also be a contributing factor to her remarkable continuity, as she spends most of the race switched off in the rear, being called on for an effort only for a furlong or so in the straight, before being eased off again at the line.
Smith's insistence on preserving his mount may not win her any big handicap marks, but it could be the key to why she is still winning, and winning well.
Zenyatta's current sequence of 16 straight victories ranks her up with North American stars like Citation and Cigar, but an undefeated run that long takes her into the all-time legend category along with the likes of Ribot from the 20th century and Ormonde from the 19th.
Admittedly, there is a little-known New Mexican mare named Peppers Pride who clocked up 19 from 19 in her native state. But in the upper echelons of the sport, Zenyatta is now dancing with the racing gods and she presently sits just two wins behind the untouchable, unbeatable, unrivalled Eclipse from the 18th century.
After spending two years confined to her home state of California, Zenyatta is expected to travel more this term. As Moss puts it: "We want to let everybody see her, we're proud of her."
Trainer John Shirreffs went further, admitting: "One of the reasons she is racing this year is that we wanted to get people that haven't had a chance to see her race be able to see her."
A schedule is yet to be finalised for the 2010 Zenyatta tour, but trips to Belmont Park and Churchill Downs are being considered before a climax at the Breeders' Cup, also at Churchill Downs, which may be her final call.
Moss had said at the end of last season: "When she won the Breeders' Cup Classic, the retirement scenario seemed obvious. If you were writing a movie, that's how you'd end it."
She was, of course, unretired earlier this year, and her story has already got better, but, with seven months left to run, the ending, and even the middle, of her tale remains unwritten.
Willshe face Rachel Alexandra? Will she stay undefeated? Will she equal or even surpass Eclipse's record? Will she beat the boys in the Breeders' Cup Classic for a second time - this time on conventional dirt? Will Zenyatta-mania take over the world?
There is a long way to go before those questions are answered, but her ever-growing fan base will savour every second of the ride.
Over in Ireland another of last season's big guns was in action, but the result was not nearly so pleasing, as Fame And Glory made a tame start to his four-year-old campaign in the Listed Alleged Stakes at the Curragh.
Sent off a 2-5 favourite on the strength of his 2009 form, which included an Irish Derby win and a second-placing in both the Epsom Derby and Irish Champion Stakes, the son of Montjeu could finish only third on Sunday. The effort earned him an RPR of 107+, which is his lowest since his two-year-old debut.
Johnny Murtagh eased him once he was beaten and he clearly needs further than this these days, while he is also fully expected to improve for the run, but this was a flat display nonetheless.
Starting him off over 1m2f may have been something of an experiment by connections, as there is every indication that he will be a better horse over further this season.
He managed to post a big figure over an intermediate trip behind Sea The Stars at Leopardstown in August last year, but the blinding pace helped him that day and when he returned to 1m2f for the Champion Stakes at Newmarket in October he ran his worst race of the season, finishing sixth.
In the Irish Derby he looked like he would stay a good bit further than 1m4f if required and staying trips remain an option for connections later in the season, although a race like the Coronation Cup would seem a more obvious (and more fashionable) short-term target.
Fame And Glory's pedigreealso suggests he will need at least 1m4f this term, as his sire has a record of almost exclusively producing 1m4f horses, and his dam (by Shirley Heights) has rarely produced a speedy type.
|1.||Quality Road (US)||Donn Handicap||128 D|
|2.||Kinsale King (US)
||Golden Shaheen||124 A|
|Zenyatta (US)||Santa Margarita Invitational||124 A|
||George Ryder||123 T|
|Espoir City (JAP)||February Stakes||123 D|
|Spanish Moon (GB)||Sheema Classic||123 T|
|8.||Bob Black Jack (US)
||San Carlos Handicap||122 A|
||Hong Kong Gold Cup||122 T|
|Gloria De Campeao (FR)||Dubai World Cup||122 A|
|Lizard's Desire (SA)
||Dubai World Cup||122 A|
||UAE Derby||122 A|
|Presious Passion (US)||Mac Diarmida Stakes||122 T|
||Jebel Hatta||122 T|
|Rocket Man (SIN)||Golden Shaheen||122 A|
|Sacred Kingdom (HK)
||Centenary Sprint Cup||122 T|
D = dirt; A = all-weather; T= turf
|1.||Quality Road (US)
|2.||Espoir City (JAP)||February Stakes||123|
|3.||Musket Man (US)||Carter Handicap||120|
|4.||Eskenderaya (US)||Fountain Of Youth||119|
|5.||Battle Plan (US)||New Orleans Stakes||118|
|General Quarters (US)||New Orleans Stakes||118|
|Lookin At Lucky (US)||Rebel Stakes||118|
|Warrior's Reward (US)||Carter Handicap||118|
|Noble's Promise (US)||Rebel Stakes||117|
|Vermilion (JAP)||Kawasaki Kinen||117|
|1.||Kinsale King (US)
|Zenyatta (US)||Santa Margarita Invitational||124|
|3.||Bob Black Jack (US)||San Carlos Handicap||122|
|Gloria De Campeao (FR)
||Dubai World Cup||122|
|Lizard's Desire (SA)
||Dubai World Cup
|Musir (SA)||UAE Derby||122|
|Rocket Man (SIN)||Golden Shaheen||122|
||Dubai World Cup
|Misremembered (US)||Santa Anita Handicap||121|
|Neko Bay (US)||Santa Anita Handicap||121|
|1.||Danleigh (AUS)||George Ryder||123|
|Spanish Moon (GB)||Sheema Classic||123|
|3.||Collection (HK)||Hong Kong Gold Cup||122|
|Presious Passion (US)
||Mac Diarmida Stakes||122|
|Presvis (GB)||Jebel Hatta||122|
|Sacred Kingdom (HK)||Centenary Sprint Cup||122|
|7.||Al Shemali (UAE)
||Dubai Duty Free||121|
|Typhoon Tracy(AUS)||Orr/ Futurity
|Viva Pataca (HK)
|10.||Buena Vista (JAP)
|Cavalryman (UAE)||Sheema Classic||120|
|Dar Re Mi (GB)
|Dream Journey (JAP)
|Egyptian Ra (HK)||G3 Challenge Cup Handicap
||Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup||120|
|Happy Zero (HK)
||Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup||120|
|Heart Of Dreams (AUS)||Orr Stakes||120|
|Joy And Fun (HK)
||Al Quoz Sprint||120|
|La Rocket (AUS)
||St George Stakes||120|
|Mr Medici (HK)
||William Reid/Newmarket Handicap||120|
|Ultra Fantasy (HK)
||Centenary Sprint Cup||120|
|Wanted (AUS)||Newmarket Handicap