By BETH HARRIS
AP Racing Writer
INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) — Move over, Rachel Alexandra and make room for undefeated filly Zenyatta.
Zenyatta pulled away to a 1¾-length victory over Life Is Sweet in Saturday’s $150,000 Milady Handicap, improving to 10-0 in her career. Ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, Zenyatta rallied from 12 lengths off the pace to win at Hollywood Park in her first start after a seven-month layoff.
“I’m numb,” he said. “I’m looking for some emotion now but I’m just numb. She’s just amazing.”
She covered 1 1/16 miles on the synthetic Cushion Track surface in 1:42.30 and paid $2.40, $2.10 and $2.10 as the 1-9 wagering favorite.
Kentucky Oaks and Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra has generated much of the buzz in racing over the past few weeks. But Zenyatta was making headlines last year.
She was 2008 champion older female, having won the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic at Santa Anita in October. That race could be the setting this fall for a possible matchup between Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra, who became the first filly in 85 years to beat the boys last weekend in the second leg of the Triple Crown.
“As far as Rachel Alexandra, she’s such a great filly and I don’t want to ruin what she did,” Smith said. “But Zenyatta is Zenyatta. When the match comes up down the road, it’s going to be exciting for racing.”
Smith got a close-up look at Rachel Alexandra after finishing second to her aboard Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird in the Preakness.
Fans crowded around the paddock rail to see Zenyatta before she headed onto the track. One held up a hand-lettered, red-white-and-blue sign that read, “Rachel who, Go Zenyatta.”
Zenyatta was supposed to make her 2009 debut three weeks ago in the Louisville Distaff at Churchill Downs, but Shirreffs scratched her because of muddy track conditions.
That left him and owners Jerry and Ann Moss anxious to see whether Zenyatta would preserve her undefeated streak.
“The streak is always in the back of your mind,” Shirreffs said. “The first race back you want to make it as easy as possible.”
“I had a hard time sleeping last night,” Ann Moss said.
Zenyatta’s name comes from the title of The Police album “Zenyatta Mondatta.”
Moss, co-founder of A&M Records who had the 1980s supergroup on his label, says the moniker doesn’t really mean anything. But her results sure do.
“I continue to be thrilled and overwhelmed with this wonderful horse,” he said in the winner’s circle. “She’s back now, so hopefully we can have some fun this year.”
Asked if that fun included a showdown with Rachel Alexandra, Moss replied, “Oh sure. Whatever race comes up. We really haven’t thought much beyond this one.”
A total of $817,589 was bet to show on the six fillies and mares in the race, with $745,418 of that wagered on Zenyatta. She was such a sure thing that a $2 show bet on her paid 10 cents.
“Wasn’t she just great?” asked Shirreffs. “What a move she made.”
Zenyatta and stablemate Life Is Sweet nearly clipped heels at the back of the field going into the second turn. Smith moved his filly outside, then swung her four horses wide into the stretch turn. She quickly overtook one horse past the eighth pole before inching away without Smith going to his whip.
“Garrett (Gomez) and I were playing some serious jockey games out there,” Smith said. “It was all clean and fair. She’s so handy that when I eased up on the pedal, she backed up for me, came around and it was all over.”
Life Is Sweet, also trained by Shirreffs, came in on a three-race winning streak. The two fillies have similar come-from-behind running styles. Life Is Sweet was the second choice a 6-1, making her and Zenyatta the only horses in the race at single-digit odds.
Life Is Sweet returned $2.20 and $2.10, while Allicansayis Wow was another three-quarters of a length back in third and paid $2.80 to show.
Gomez said Life Is Sweet didn’t seem to like Hollywood Park’s surface, which he said more resembles dirt than Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride surface, where she scored three major stakes wins earlier this year.
“Down the backstretch she wasn’t really taking me anywhere today,” Gomez said. “She picked it up down the lane and finished OK. Overall, it was a very respectable performance. What can you say about Zenyatta?”
Zenyatta became the first Milady repeat winner since Azeri in 2002-03. Smith rode that champion filly, too.
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