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Mike Smith gives Zenyatta a pat as they parade for the fans after the Apple Blossom Handicap
On Friday, the eyes of the racing world were on Oaklawn Park for the $500,000 Apple Blossom Invitational Handicap (G1). Conditions were ideal at the Hot Springs oval for the crowd of 44,973, with sunny skies, temperatures in the mid 70's, and a dry fast track. A field of 5 older fillies and mares went to post in this 1 1/8 mile event, with 1-20 favorite Zenyatta attempting to tie the record of 16 straight wins in open company, held by both Citation and Cigar. She won the Santa Margarita at Santa Anita in her first start this year. In to challenge the 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic winner and champion older female included 15-1 second choice Be Fair, an allowance winner last out after finishing third in the Pippin Stakes, and 19-1 third choice Just Jenda, fourth in the Azeri last out and winless since the Monmouth Oaks in July.
Zenyatta draws off in the stretch
As expected Zenyatta was slowest out of the gate and sat in last as many as 8 lengths off the lead early, while Be Fair set an uncontested pace of 24.07, 48.19, and 1:12.68 with 35-1 longest shot Taptam stalking her in second 1 1/2 lengths back. Midway on the turn, jockey Mike Smith moved Zenyatta out 5 wide for run and she easily swept past the competition to take the lead at the 3/16 pole. Under no urging from Smith, Zenyatta drew off through the stretch and finishing up under wraps 4 1/4 lengths in front of Taptam in 1:50.71. It was another 1 1/2 lengths back to pacesetter Be Fair third.
Also check out other races during the Racing Festival of the South at Oaklawn, including the Count Fleet Handicap, the Bayakoa Stakes, and the Fifth Season Stakes.
Pgm Horse Jockey Win Place Show 4 Zenyatta Smith 2.10 2.10 - 2 Taptam Berry 6.40 - 1 Be Fair Borel - Winning Time: 1:50:71 $2 Exacta 4-2 18.00 $1 Trifecta 4-2-1 24.30
Left: Zenyatta in the winner's circle with Oaklawn president Charles Cella presenting the trophy to owners Jerry and Ann Moss. Moss said, "We're just thrilled and delighted that she's won 16 in a row. So many people have thanked us personally for bringing the horse here. I think wherever we go, people will be happy to see Zenyatta. She seems to grow with every race. I don't think Mike had to even hit her today. She seemed to be reveling in getting back on the dirt. The way she reacted to the crowd…to the press…she was taking bows. I don't know what else we could do but sit back and enjoy it. It is a great feeling and she's a great gift. It's really something overwhelming and a responsibility, but also a great joy." When told of the news that Personal Ensign passed away, he added, "She was a great mare, and we were obviously complimented to be even thought of in her realm."
Right: Zenyatta in last as they go by the first time.
Left: Zenyatta poses in the infield saddling area. She was really showing off for the crowd dancing and posing every time they cheered and when her name was announced, she bowed to the crowd. Dottie Shirreffs, wife of trainer John, said, "Has anyone ever seen a horse bow before a race? She bowed twice when she was announced." Her jockey Mike Smith answered, "I thought I'd seen it all with her, but I'd never seen her do that."
Right: Zenyatta doing her dance for the fans as she heads over to the infield before the race. Her trainer John Shirreffs, when asked if dirt is Zenyatta's best surface, said, "Without a doubt. We've always said that, not everybody always listened. We just wanted everybody to really see her perform the way we know she can. We are just so glad we got to see it. We are glad for all her fans and we are really glad for Hot Springs because everybody has been so nice and this reaction and the way they've treated her has been great. It's a perfect ending."
Left: Zenyatta comes over from the barns before the race.
Right: Mike Smith and Zenyatta with the blanket of flowers after winning. Smith said, "She was really on her game today warming up. She broke really well and was taken in hand. The whole race today she was really on and I kind of kept her in behind on the dirt, and going around the far turn I kind of poked her out to get her ready for a run and she lengthened her stride, which she does every time. This and her last race were pretty impressive and well, well within herself. Riding her is a lot of fun. It's kind of hard to say if she's getting better and better because she's so good. I was looking at the big screen in the stretch, to be honest, because at the point we'd already hit the front really easy and I just moved a little to keep her focused."
Left: Zenyatta at the test barn after the race. Her owner Jerry Moss, when asked about the matchup that didn't happen after Rachel Alexandra did not enter, said, "We're going to make our schedule. We like 1 1/8 mile races. We like Grade 1s. We will plot our course, and if Rachel Alexandra wants to join us, she's more than welcome. But we will plot our schedule with the goal of getting to the Breeders' Cup."
Right: The start of the Apple Blossom Handicap. Co-owner Ann Moss said, "She's amazing; she's from another planet, I believe. For her to bring so much joy to so many people is wonderful."
Left: Second place finisher Taptam returns after the race. Her jockey Cliff Berry said, "(Zenyatta) is intimidating. When I saw her coming, I started riding for second. I felt like I won. My filly ran great. It was a great race for her. It really does feel like a win when you get beat by a horse like that."
Right: Third place finisher Be Fair was bucking up a storm in the post parade. Her trainer D. Wayne Lukas said, "I was happy and pleased especially since the distance was 1/16 farther than she would like on most occasions. They took it to her and put pressure on us, but she ran her eye-balls out and the winner ran like who we thought she is. This was great for racing. The good guys won."
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