LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Horse racing's queen is taking one more shot at the boys, the critics and history, too.
Watch out fellas, Zenyatta's coming. Again.
The unbeaten 6-year-old mare will try to make it a perfect 20-for-20 with a second straight victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on Saturday evening, in what could be the final act of an almost unparalleled career that has breathed life into a flagging industry.
The muscular champion is horse racing's "It" girl. Oprah Winfrey's O magazine placed her on its annual power list last month. There's a spread on Zenyatta and her connections in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated and a lengthy profile slated to run on "60 Minutes" this weekend.
Zenyatta's quest for perfection is giving the Breeders' Cup a healthy dose of buzz. Organizers are expecting record ticket revenue and the Classic will be run under the recently installed lights at the home of the Kentucky Derby.
Breeders' Cup president and CEO Greg Avioli acknowledges the image of racing's superstar running into the record books with one of her patented dashes to the wire is the kind of made-for-TV moment of which legends are made.
"Whether she gets there or not, I think it's going to be a spectacle that everyone is going to remember for the rest of their lives," Avioli said.
The competition, however, isn't exactly cowering in fear.
Preakness champion Lookin At Lucky, Woodward winner Quality Road and surging Whitney Handicap champ Blame are expected to line up with Zenyatta in the starting gate for the 1 1/4-mile Classic, one of 14 races spread over two days that have drawn a record 184 horses vying for a slice of the $26 million in purses.
The return to the dirt at Churchill Downs played a major role in the record number of entries. While there was a healthy turnout -- particularly from Europe -- the last two years at Santa Anita, some American owners and trainers opted to skip the Breeders' Cup because of the track's synthetic surface.
"I think it being on a natural surface is huge," said Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who will saddle 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird in the Dirt Mile. "The central location I think helps too."
So does the venue. Churchill Downs has long been a popular spot for the Breeders' Cup, hosting six of the event's top seven one-day attendance figures.
This is the first time the track will host a two-day Breeders' Cup, and while the spotlight will be on Zenyatta, she's not the only horse chasing history.
Goldikova will attempt an unprecedented third win in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Mile on turf, while British import Workforce will look to become the first horse to capture both the Arc de Triomphe and the Breeders' Cup Turf in the same year.
Kentucky Oaks winner Blind Luck, whose dead closing style could be called Zenyatta-lite, will headline Friday's Ladies Classic and the Juvenile could give a glimpse at the next Kentucky Derby winner. Street Sense won the race for 2-year-olds in 2006 -- the last time it was held at Churchill Downs -- and then dominated the Run for the Roses six months later.
Ultimately, however, they'll all take a back seat to Zenyatta's quest.
Zenyatta's bid to join Tiznow as the only repeat Classic winners hardly seemed likely a year ago. She chased down Gio Ponti in the final strides win the Classic in front of her hometown fans last November, a thrilling victory that appeared to be the capper of a singular career.
Yet she stayed in shape during the winter, growing so antsy around the barn that trainer John Shirreffs kept her in training just to calm her down. She ran so well owners Jerry and Ann Moss opted to run a full campaign, promising to send the California-based star across the country and take on all comers.
Didn't happen. She did make one trip to Arkansas, where she romped in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn, for the second straight year, before returning home and extending her streak to 19 with victories in the Vanity, Clement L. Hirsch and Lady's Secret Stakes.
All the wins came against fillies and mares. And 17 of her 19 career wins have come on California's synthetic surfaces.
Shirreffs insists Zenyatta hasn't been ducking the boys and is hardly lost when her feet get dirty.
"She's a dainty little girl you know," Shirreffs said with a laugh.
Lukas pointed to the massive mare's dominant victories in the Apple Blossom as proof that she's good no matter what's under foot. He watched her blow away the field in a jog this spring.
"She looked so much better, she's a lot quicker, she quickens easier, her stride is better," he said. "I think it fits her. It's hers to lose."
She's come close plenty of times. Shirreffs admits he figured the streak was done on a half-dozen occasions. Yet she has survived, thrived even, with jockey Mike Smith, becoming so good at knowing just when to go that trainer Bob Baffert said "it's almost like a game to her."
From her prerace prancing to her postrace bowing to her gentle nature at the barn, Zenyatta has become horse racing's version of Julia Roberts.
"She's puts on a show for everybody with her little antics and she's a really smart mare," Baffert said. "I mean, she knows where the wire is ... she's like a killer whale playing with the seals."
One more starring role remains. Another victory in the Classic would answer the critics who say she hasn't done enough to rank among the all-time best. Lukas thinks she's more than up to the challenge.
"I think it will stamp her," Lukas said. "If she whips them twice in a row in the Classic, I would have to say you'd have to mention her with the Spectacular Bids and Secretariats."