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Zenyatta falls short in quest for perfection

Published:Sunday | November 7, 2010 | 12:00 AM


Perfection eluded Zenyatta in the Breeders' Cup Classic yesterday when horse racing's superstar lost for the first time after 19 consecutive wins.

Blame won by a head in a thrilling finish with the 6-year-old mare, who threaded her way through traffic from last place while the crowd of 72,739 urged her on down the stretch under the lights at Churchill Downs.

Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith blamed himself for the loss. He walked off the track with his head down, dirt stuck to his face.

"It was my fault," he said, sobbing. "She should've won."

It was so close, a matter of inches, the result had to be resolved by a photo - a picture that broke the hearts of not only Zenyatta's owners and trainer but millions of fans around the world.

Blame went to the front in mid-stretch, then fought off another gutsy run by Zenyatta, who lagged well behind 11 rivals - all boys - in her customary style.

Blame ran 2400 metres in 2:02.28 and paid US$12.40 to win at 5-1 odds. Fly Down was third, while Preakness winner Lookin At Lucky finished fourth.

Zenyatta was the sentimental even-money favourite, playing to the crowd at every chance on her way to the starting gate. She high-stepped her way to the paddock, playfully pawing the ground as they roared. Co-owner Ann Moss held her finger to her lips as a signal for the fans to quiet down.

Zenyatta proved she could beat the boys last year when she rallied from behind to win the US$5 million Classic at Santa Anita. It was one of her 17 wins on synthetic surfaces in her home state of California.

Facing talented field

This time, though, she was facing the deepest, most talented field of her career on a surface on which she had limited experience. Still, trainer John Shirreffs had said she preferred it to synthetic tracks.

It was her third time running on dirt; in her two previous races, she beat other girls at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas.

But Blame owned home-court advantage. He won twice before on dirt at Churchill, where Zenyatta had never raced.

"She ran an excellent race and just came up a little short," Shirreffs said. "She ran her heart out."

Zenyatta's 19 consecutive wins tied her for most all-time with Peppers Pride, who retired last year after running against much lesser competition. Peppers Pride never raced outside New Mexico and all her wins came against fillies and mares.

American horses earned 12 victories over the two-day championships, with Europe-based horses winning twice.

European import Goldikova successfully defended her title in the US$2 million Mile for the third consecutive year against 10 rivals, including nine boys. Dangerous Midge won the US$3 million Turf, and Pluck won the US$1 million Juvenile Turf.

Big Drama led all the way to win the $2 million Sprint; Chamberlain Bridge won the US$1 million Turf Sprint; and 37-1 long shot Dakota Phone won the US$1 million Dirt Mile.

Uncle Mo won the US$2 million Juvenile, giving trainer Todd Pletcher his third win of the weekend.

In the Juvenile Turf, Rough Sailing was euthanised after breaking a major bone in his upper leg when he slipped and fell going into the first turn. Jockey Rosie Napravnik wasn't hurt.