It’s no longer a male’s world in the Breeders’ Cup as two of the most important races at Churchill Downs puts the spotlight on mares aiming to stage repeat performances.
There have been only eight repeat winners in the same BC race during the past 26 world championships. Five came in the 21st Century: Tiznow, ’00-01 Classic; High Chaparral, ’02-03 Turf; Midnight Lute, ’07-08 Sprint; Conduit, ’08-09 Turf; and Goldikova, ’08-09 Mile.
With her Oct. 2 victory in the Lady’s Secret Stakes, Zenyatta tied the modern North American thoroughbred streak of Peppers Pride, unbeaten in 19 consecutive contests, all in New Mexico.
Zenyatta will be gunning for No. 20 in a racing career that started on debut on Nov. 22, 2007. Her string of victories includes 11 Grade 1s, including the ’08 BC Ladies Classic and last year’s BC Classic.
The daughter of Street Cry has scored at five tracks this year, mostly on synthetic surfaces in California. The exception is two wins in the Apple Blossom on the dirt of Oaklawn Park.
Zenyatta heads one of the strongest fields in Classic history rich in experience on dirt, including Blame, the leading handicapping male, and Lookin at Lucky, the top 3-year-old.
Before being upset in Belmont Park’s Jockey Gold Cup by Haynesfield, Blame posted three Grade 1 triumphs at three different tracks, including the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs.
Haynesfield led all the way in the Gold Cup, also defeating third-place finisher Fly Down, Belmont and Travers runner-up among the Classic contenders. The previous Grade 1 Whitney saw the son of Speightstown finish fourth behind Blame and two others heading to the Classic, Quality Road and Musket Man.
Lucky at Lucky, equally successful on synthetic and dirt surfaces, has won his last three graded stakes since a very his troubled trip in the Kentucky Derby. The victories include the Preakness at Pimlico and Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.
Ironically, the strongest Classic field gathered at Churchill Downs in ’98. The 10 horses included:
Coronado’s Quest, winner of Wood Memorial, Travers and Haskell, sprinted to the lead from the break, but never was ahead by more than a length for the first mile.
Pressing the pace in second for six furlongs was ’97 Classic champ Skip Away before fading to sixth. Silver Charm, ’98 Dubai World Cup winner that captured the previous year’s Preakness and Belmont, advanced to second with a quarter-mile to go.
And down the stretch they came. Traveling fastest of all was Awesome Again, victorious in the ’98 Stephen Foster and Whitney. The son of Deputy Minister split horses nearing the wire and prevailed by a length.
Silver Charm, who had gained a narrow lead entering the stretch, drifted wide, but held on for second by a neck over English champ Swain. A nose back in fourth was Victory Gallop, who captured the ’98 Belmont, while Coronado’s Quest faded to fifth.
Awesome Again completed his unbeaten 4-year-old season going 6 for 6. If Zenyatta takes this year’s Classic assured of a full 14-horse field on Nov. 6 after pre-entries were announced Wednesday, she’ll end up 6 for 6 as a 6-year-old and nail down Horse of the Year honors.
Meanwhile, Goldikova is going where no horse has gone before in BC history. The 5-year-old is gunning for her third straight victory in the Mile.
She won in ’08 by 1 ¼ lengths and repeated last year by a half-length, both times defeating 10 challengers on a firm Santa Anita Park grass course. Her record this year across the Atlantic is four wins and a second in five outings. The field for the third consecutive year is 11 if there are no withdrawals from the pre-entries.