After throwing $5 million at racing’s two female superstars to run in the Apple Blossom Invitational, Oaklawn Park’s president got half of what he and the horse racing world wanted to see. Zenyatta is here.
She’s the early 3-5 favorite for Friday’s 1 1-8-mile race, now worth $500,000 instead of $5 million if both horses had run. Just four challengers — none of whom has won a prestigious Grade 1 race — are taking her on as Zenyatta tries to win her 16th in a row.
That would tie Citation and Cigar’s modern mark 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.
“I haven’t quite got used to 15 yet, so 16 would be awesome,” Zenyatta’s co-owner Jerry Moss said Thursday. “I only start getting real nervous about it right before the race. She’s relaxed and ready, and that’s all you can ask for.”
Rachel Alexandra, the other horse track president Charles Cella tried to lure, isn’t here, although her jockey and trainer will be trying to beat Zenyatta with different horses.
Calvin Borel is aboard Be Fair, while Steve Asmussen saddles War Echo.
“Try to beat her, that’s all we can do,” said Borel, who admits he’ll be rooting for Zenyatta to win.
“It would be awesome, and then maybe she’ll hook Rachel at Churchill.”
That’s where Rachel Alexandra is currently training, awaiting her next start. One possibility is a race on Kentucky Derby eve.
Zenyatta won the Apple Blossom two years ago in her dirt debut, beating defending champion Ginger Punch.
“She really burst on the scene there,” her trainer John Shirreffs said.
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.
Last month, Shirreffs-trained Zardana upset Rachel Alexandra in her season debut in New Orleans, a result that played into owner Jess Jackson pulling the plug on his 2009 Horse of the Year running in the Apple Blossom.