By Tom Pedulla, USA TODAY
INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Nineteen-for-nineteen.
Zenyatta continued her run to racing immortality by staging her usual breathtaking rally to win the Lady's Secret Stakes by half a length against Switch on Saturday at Hollywood Park.
In narrowly winning the Lady's Secret for an unprecedented third time and bringing home the $150,000 first-place share of the $250,000 purse, the former $60,000 yearling purchase surpassed Ouija Board as the leader in female earnings with $6,404,580. Ouija Board retired late in 2006 with $6,312,552.
"She's got that ability to dig down. Her heart must be huge," exulted trainer John Shirreffs. "She never gives up."
There was a moment at the top of the stretch when it appeared that the 6-year-old daughter of Street Cry would finally fall short in what is expected to be her final appearance in California leading to her title defense in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs.
But her jockey, Mike Smith, never felt that way.
"The 3-year-old ran dynamite," he said, quickly adding, "I was just starting to hit a gear."
It did not appear that the "Queen of Thoroughbred racing" reached top speed until she neared the end of the 1 1/16-mile Lady's Secret. Shirreffs acknowledged that the distance might have represented a greater danger to his unrivaled mare than any of her four opponents.
"Obviously, as she's grown and developed with age she's better at longer distances," the trainer said.
To put Zenyatta's perfection in perspective, legendary Cigar and Citation each had winning streaks halted at 16 in a row. Personal Ensign, celebrated as one of the great fillies in the sport's history, called it an unblemished career after she won for the 13th time by defeating Kentucky Derby victor Winning Colors in the 1988 Breeders' Cup Distaff.
Racing's massive heroine, who stands more than 17 hands tall and weighs more than 1,200 pounds, can only hope the Lady's Secret, which marked her 13th Grade 1 score, serves her as well this autumn as it did in the past.
She used the contest as a prep before she swept the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic in 2008. She took the same path last year when she emerged as the first female to beat the boys in the Classic in that race's 26-year history when she roared past Gio Ponti by one length last November.
Both of those Breeders' Cup successes occurred at Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif., which raises the question of how she will fare against males when she faces them for the first time on the traditional dirt track at Churchill Downs.
All but two of Zenyatta's successes came on synthetic surfaces. She twice ventured to Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., for the Grade 1 Apple Blossom. Each time it resulted in two of her most convincing scores.
She banged out the largest winning margin of her career when she rolled in the Apple Blossom by 4½ lengths on April 5, 2008. She made a sweeping move to cross the finish line first by 4¼ lengths at Oaklawn this past April.
Shirreffs is optimistic that Zenyatta is well-positioned to put the exclamation point on her career by prevailing in the Classic.
"She's better. She's stronger. She's more mature. She's very focused," he said.