Zenyatta: The lady was a champ

Zenyatta is inarguably the greatest American-bred female racehorse of all time, posting 19 consecutive victories including a record 13 Grade 1 races. Her quest for lifetime perfection fell short by inches when she was beaten in her final career race, the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Despite winning the 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic in a race against the best horses around the world, Zenyatta was denied 2009 Horse of the Year honors in a controversial vote. Rachel Alexandra, a filly who won all eight of her starts in 2009, collected 130 votes to Zenyatta's 99.

Zenyatta was perfect in five starts that year, including the $4.545 million Breeders’ Cup Classic when she became the first female to win America’s richest race. She was named 2010 Horse of the Year although she ended the year with her only career defeat in the Breeders' Cup Classic. 

The Zenyatta Profile

  • Place of birth: Lexington, Ky
  • Date of birth/age of death: April 1, 2004/still living
  • Sex: Filly/mare
  • Owner: Jerry and Ann Moss
  • Trainer: John Shirreffs
  • Sire and Dam: Street Cry (IRE) out of Vertigineux (Kris S.)
  • Jockey/s: David Flores (first three races), Mike Smith (17)
  • Record: 20 races, 19 wins and one second
  • Career earnings: $7,304,580

The Zenyatta Achievements

In one of racing's more memorable performances, on Nov. 7, 2009, she became the first female to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. With that incredible last-to-first success, she also was the first horse ever to win two different Breeders’ Cup races.

In the Classic, she defeated eight Grade 1 or Group I-winning males. The list of accomplishments among her beaten rivals that day:

Winners of the Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes, two Travers, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Santa Anita Handicap, Pacific Classic, Arlington Million, Man o’ War, Santa Anita Derby, Champion Stakes, Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, Sussex Stakes, Woodford Reserve Turf Classic and Manhattan Handicap.

She was the people's choice in the crowd of 58,825, many holding Zenyatta signs. According to a Steve Haskin column in the November 2019 Blood-Horse magazine, "Several professional photographers standing outside the winner’s circle wept openly. The pursuit of perfection had been completed in resounding fashion."

Zenyatta, at the time of her retirement, held the all-time North American earnings record for a filly or mare and the all-time record for Breeders’ Cup earnings. She is three-time Champion Older Female (2008-10) and 2010 Horse of the Year.

Notable Remarks

A transcendent sports figure at the height of her popularity, Zenyatta finished second in the voting for the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year in both 2009 and 2010. She was a crossover cultural star, too, appearing in a profile on "60 Minutes" in 2010 prior to her historic attempt at 20 consecutive victories in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic.

Zenyatta’s offspring have not proved to be anything close to their mother's equal.

Her first foal, Cozmic One, is a son of Bernardini who didn't win a race, nor did her next foal, the Tapit colt Ziconic.

Two War Front foals that followed both tragically died, after which Zenyatta took a year off from breeding. Her current 3-year-old, Zellda, was in training with Shirreffs at Santa Anita and has yet to start.

Zenyatta also lost a pregnancy when due to Into Mischief, but in 2020 delivered a Candy Ride filly who, according to reports, is above average in height, well-balanced, athletic and leggy.

She'll always have the 2009 Classic, though. Zenyatta was sent off as the 5-2 favorite and when she finally arrived at the front, her jockey, Mike Smith, said: “Believe it or not, she was well within herself, still pricking her ears, and didn’t even take a deep breath after the race was over. It’s just incredible.”