Zenyatta enjoys welcome home party at Keeneland

Dec 7 2010 - 6:05pm

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Prancing one more time for the cameras, Zenyatta took one final victory lap Monday before heading off to retirement.

Horse racing's leading lady flew from California to the Bluegrass state, then spent 30 minutes parading around the outside walking ring at Keeneland before hopping into a trailer bound for her new home at Lane's End Farm.

The 6-year-old mare, arguably the sport's biggest ambassador since Secretariat, posed for pictures and hardly appeared bothered by the bitter cold temperatures as hundreds of fans crowded lined the ring hoping for one last glimpse.

"I've never seen anything like this in my life," said jockey Mike Smith, who rode Zenyatta during the final 17 races of her career.

Owners Jerry and Ann Moss fought back tears as they took in the scene. The pit stop at Keeneland was fitting. The Mosses purchased her for $60,000 during the 2005 September Yearling Sale.

"She's filled out a bit since then," Moss said with a laugh.

Has she ever.

Zenyatta blossomed into one of racing's all-time great mares during her singular career, winning 19 of 20 races, including the 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic.

Her bid for perfection ended with a narrow loss to Blame in this year's Classic. It was a bitter defeat, though it hardly mattered to the people who braved the 18-degree temperatures and 7-degree wind chill.

The scene was quite different than the rousing send-off she received at Hollywood Park on Sunday, but the sentiments were not.

One fan fashioned a sign that read "California gurls, we're undeniable" while another held on that called her "God's gift to stallions."

Ann Moss admitted she was overwhelmed by the response for a horse that spent the majority of her career running in California.

"It's huge because the East Coast doesn't know her quite as well but they're all going to fall in love," she said. "It's already started."

A young boy wore a replica of Smith's jockey silks while several groups sported the purple Zenyatta Breeders' Cup caps.

Zenyatta did her best to put on a show. Groom Mario Espinoza gently guided her for several laps around the walking ring, with fans brandishing their camera phones to commemorate the moment.

She took the commotion in stride. Then again, it's never really been a problem. Ann Moss has always marveled at her horse's ability to stay serene no matter the circumstances. It's a sensibility that tends to rub off on whomever she's around.

"When you're with her it's just such joy so you don't really think about much more than just smiling," she said. "As long as you're with her, everything is good."

Trainer John Shirreffs grabbed her halter and rubbed his hand over her nose while track officials offered her a gift basket filled with her favorites: carrots, mints and several bottles of Guinness beer.

After about a half-hour in the ring, Shirreffs guided her away from the crowd to a nearby barn. A groom outfitted her with a green blanket before she was led to a van destined for Lane's End, where she'll join two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, and leading sires A.P. Indy and Smart Strike.

And unlike last year, when the Mosses said she was retiring only to change their minds weeks later, this time, she's not coming back.

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