Undefeated Zenyatta may earn the tag as “the best horse of all time” if she gets her 20th consecutive win in the $5 Million Breeders’ Cup Classic, the richest thoroughbred horse race in North America.
Zenyatta, who became the first filly or mare to win the Classic last year, is looking for her third straight Breeders’ Cup title after taking the Ladies Classic in 2008. She was given 8-5 odds by Mike Battaglia, handicapper for Churchill Downs racetrack.
The 6-year-old will compete in her final race before retirement against 11 horses in the 1 1/4-mile Classic on Nov. 6. The 27th Breeders’ Cup Championships, which consist of 14 races with $26 million in purses, start Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.
“It’s going to be a tough race,” Johnny Avello, executive director of race and sports operations at Wynn Resorts Ltd. in Las Vegas, said in a telephone interview. “This is not a cruise in the park. After this race, you’ll hear she’s the best horse of all time.”
Avello, who originally set her odds at 5-2 in his future book, has since seen them fall as race day nears. If Zenyatta wins, he said he’ll lose a lot of money in his future book.
‘A Great Story’
“But I don’t care,” he said. “It’s a great story.”
Churchill Downs’ Battaglia said he originally set Zenyatta’s odds at 5-2 until his wife told him the mare was listed as one of talk-show host and entertainer Oprah Winfrey’s most influential females. Then he dropped them again when Zenyatta appeared this past weekend on CBS Corp.’s “60 Minutes.”
“She’s not only a star on the racetrack,” he said in an interview on the Breeders Cup website. “She’s a Hollywood superstar.”
Trainer Bob Baffert will run Preakness Stakes winner Lookin At Lucky against Zenyatta in the Classic. The 3-year-old, starting from the outside post, was given odds of 6-1.
“I’ve been kind of fortunate to watch her run in California, and she’s become such a popular mare,” Baffert said during a teleconference last week. “She puts on a show for everybody with her little antics and she’s a really smart mare.”
Souvenir Betting Slips
Avello figures there will be bets on Zenyatta that won’t be cashed in.
“There are going to be a lot of $2 tickets that will not be cashed,” Avello said. “They’ll keep them as souvenirs.”
Blame, ridden by Garrett Gomez, is the second favorite at 9-2, and Quality Road, with John Velazquez aboard, is third at 5-1.
Zenyatta, owned by Jerry Moss, the founder of A&M Records Inc., and his wife, Ann Moss, was brought out of retirement this year. She was named for the Police’s 1980 album “Zenyatta Mondatta.”
“Everyday with her is a celebration,” Ann Moss said on the website. “We’re always going from race to race and she’s had a good time. She’s grazed and found the grass is shorter with leaves on it.”
Ann Moss said the No. 8 post position is “one of our favorite numbers.”
Jerry Moss said the contest is “a tough race. These are great horses. She beats this group -- it will be something.”
Horse of Year
Even though she won last year’s Classic, Zenyatta missed Horse of the Year honors as Rachel Alexandra, the first filly to win the Preakness in 85 years, received 130 votes to 99 for the mare. Jess Jackson’s 4-year-old was retired in September before the thoroughbreds could meet.
Last year, Zenyatta was the top-earning North American thoroughbred at $3.3 million and won honors as the 2009 champion older filly or mare.
In her traditional racing style, Zenyatta dances her way to the track, poses for the cheering fans and then gives them a performance in which she hangs at the back of the pack until jockey Mike Smith gives her the sign to move.
“She knows where the wire is, it’s almost like a game to her,” Baffert said. “She’s like a killer whale playing with the seals. And she just turns for home. She locks down on the leader and just gets after them and just runs the last part of it. I get goose bumps just watching the replays of her race.”
Trainer John Shirreffs said Zenyatta has no problem handling noise and crowds.
“She seems to really get a kick out of it, so I don’t anticipate any problem with that at all,” Shirreffs said during a teleconference.
Zenyatta won her 14th straight race in last year’s Classic on a synthetic track at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California. The mare, who was purchased by Moss as a yearling for $60,000, won her first 13 races against fillies.
BREEDERS’ CUP CLASSICPP HORSE JOCKEY ODDS ------------------------------------------ 1 Quality Road John Velazquez 5-1 2 Paddy O’Prado Kent Desormeaux 15-1 3 Haynesworth Ramon Dominguez 12-1 4 First Dude Robby Albarado 15-1 5 Blame Garrett Gomez 9-2 6 Fly Down Julien Leparoux 15-1 7 Musket Man Rajiv Maragh 20-1 8 Zenyatta Mike Smith 8-5 9 Pleasant Prince Joel Rosario 30-1 10 Etched Alan Garcia 30-1 11 Espoir City Tetsuzo Sato 20-1 12 Lookin At Lucky Martin Garcia 6-1