Zenyatta had the distinction of being named American Horse of the Year in 2010, but was also named American Champion Older Female in 2008, 2009 and 2010. In a four-year career between 2007 and 2010, she won 19 consecutive races – including 13 Grade 1 events – and earned over $7.3 million in prize money.
Zenyatta was owned by Jerry and Ann Moss, trained by John Shirreffs in California and ridden, for most of her career, by Mike Smith. She was, or is, a daughter of 2002 Dubai World Cup winner Street Cry, but owes her name to “Zenyatta Mondatta”, a studio album by English band The Police, whom Jerry Moss apparently signed to A&M records.
Zenyatta recorded her first Grade 1 win in the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park, on just her fourth start, in April 2008. Indeed, her seven victories in 2008 included the Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park, the Clement L. Hirsch Handicap at Del Mar and the Lady’s Secret Stakes at Santa Anita – all races that she would win for the next two years running – and culminated in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic, also at Santa Anita.
Zenyatta returned to Santa Anita in 2009 for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, in which she faced 11 rivals, including the Sussex Stakes and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes winner, Rip Van Winkle, who started 2/1 favourite. She missed the break but, although only sixth turning into the straight, was angled to the outside with a furlong to run and swept by the leader, Gio Ponti, in the closing stages to win by a length.
In fact, it was in the Breeders’ Cup Classic the following year, at Churchill Downs, where Zenyatta met her Waterloo, so to speak, although her final defeat was hardly as crushing or decisive as that suffered by Napoleon Bonaparte. She once again missed by break, but this time trailed the field by 5 lengths in the early stages. She took closer in the back straight and, once again, switched outside in the final furlong and a half, set off in pursuit of the leader, Blame. Zenyatta made up the best part of 2½ lengths in the final half a furlong, but Blame kept on gamely to win by a head. The narrow defeat was selected as the Moment of the Year by the National Thoroughbred Racing Authority (NTRA) and Zenyatta was named American Horse of the Year for 2010.