Zenyatta remains perfect, going 16-0

By Beth Harris
Associated Press / April 10, 2010

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — Zenyatta improved to 16-0 with a 4 1/4-length victory in the Apple Blossom Invitational yesterday, galloping effortlessly from behind in her usual style.

The 6-year-old mare tied the modern mark shared by 1948 Triple Crown winner Citation and 1995-96 Horse of the Year Cigar in unrestricted races. Peppers Pride, who retired last year with a 19-for-19 record, and Hallowed Dreams, who won 16 straight, achieved some of their success in statebred stakes.

Zenyatta beat four horses in the 1 1/8-mile race that didn’t include racing’s other female superstar, Rachel Alexandra. Her owner passed on a chance to participate in what would have been a dream matchup worth $5 million if both horses had shown up.

Jockey Mike Smith never had to go to his whip on the 1-9 favorite, who swept to the lead going four-wide leaving the final turn. She drew clear down the stretch to extend the streak that began 2 1/2 years ago. She paid $2.10 and $2.10, with no show wagering at Oaklawn Park.

Zenyatta ran the distance in 1:50.71.

Taptam returned $6.40. Be Fair, ridden by Rachel Alexandra’s jockey, Calvin Borel, was third. Just Jenda was fourth and War Echo, trained by Steve Asmussen, who oversees Rachel Alexandra, was last.

Rachel Alexandra’s absence restored the Apple Blossom purse to $500,000, with Zenyatta earning $300,000.

Zenyatta won the Apple Blossom two years ago in her dirt debut. Her other 14 wins have come on synthetic surfaces in Southern California, highlighted by beating the boys in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic in November.

Zenyatta overcame traffic in the stretch to win the Santa Margarita Handicap in her first start this year. She had no such trouble this time.

Zenyatta was last away from the starting gate, with Borel and Be Fair breaking from the No. 1 post and staying on the rail. She began closing ground on the leaders around the far turn.

Smith moved Zenyatta to the far outside and she went wide around the other four horses to take the lead. Down the stretch, Zenyatta loped along in a gallop with Smith merely holding on as the grandstand erupted in cheers.

After crossing the line, they returned to the grandstand, with Smith patting Zenyatta’s neck in between waving to the crowd of 44,973. He stopped her in front of them and she twice bowed her head as if acknowledging the applause.