Zenyatta could sting Ladies field
ARCADIA, Calif. - Undefeated 4-year-old filly Zenyatta's name comes from the title of The Police album "Zenyatta Mondatta."
Owner Jerry Moss, a cofounder of A&M Records who had the 1980s supergroup on his label, says the moniker doesn't really mean anything. Maybe, but it appears his superstar has taken a cue from the album's first track, "Don't Stand So Close to Me."
No opponent has been able to this year, the main reason Zenyatta is the 3-5 favorite in today's $2 million Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic, formerly the Distaff. The race is the highlight of what's being called "Ladies' Day" at Santa Anita, five races for fillies and mares to start horse racing's biggest weekend.
Trainer John Shirreffs called Zenyatta, who is 8 for 8 this year, the best filly he's ever had and isn't so sure he's seen the best of her yet.
"She keeps improving all the time," Shirreffs said.
That's not good news for the rest of the eight-horse field, including defending champion Ginger Punch and last year's runner-up, Hystericalady, though Shirreffs is hardly predicting victory.
"We just take it day by day and look at the small picture rather than the big picture," Shirreffs said.
Both of them look pretty good right now. Then again, why shouldn't they? Moss and his wife, Ann, have had pretty good luck with horses named in tribute to Sting, The Police's lead singer. Giacomo - named after Sting's son - stunned the Kentucky Derby field in 2005, winning as a long shot.
Zenyatta is no long shot, though she is a late bloomer. The filly didn't make her debut until last fall, as Shirreffs waited for the awkward, gangly horse to fill out and get over her jitters in the starting gate.
"There were a lot of little things she needed to learn and it took a while," Shirreffs said.
Consider her all caught up. Zenyatta won her debut by 3 lengths at Hollywood Park last fall and hasn't looked back. Though she's typically slow out of the gate, her massive stride allows her to eat up ground quickly. She's coming off a relatively easy 3 1/2-length win in the Lady's Secret Stakes at Santa Anita last month and has had no problem with the track's newly installed synthetic surface.
"She's very versatile," Shirreffs said. "Usually, a horse has a little bit of an Achilles' heel or something that may bother them later on or cause them not to run as well, but Zenyatta, she doesn't have any of those things. She's a great racing athlete."
Hystericalady trainer Jerry Hollendorfer thought he had a pretty big horse on his hands until he saw her lined up next to Zenyatta. "She stands out," Hollendorfer said. "Hystericalady is a good-sized filly and very good-looking, but she doesn't look too big standing next to Zenyatta."
Zenyatta's size gives her a commanding presence in the paddock, in the barn, and on the track, and Shirreffs thinks she uses that to her advantage.
"She's not the least bit intimidated and doesn't pay attention to anything around her," Shirreffs said. "She expects everybody to stop for her."