Roundup: Zenyatta proves big draw at Churchill
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Zenyatta had her first gallop at Churchill Downs on Wednesday morning, then spent time making her fans happy.
The mare with the 19-0 record goes for a repeat victory Saturday in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic that would clinch Horse of the Year honors.
Zenyatta, the 8-5 favorite, was watched by a large crowd, including owners Jerry and Ann Moss, who followed her from the barn to the track and back.
"I thought she looked great on the track,'' trainer John Shirreffs said. "She handled the track very well and was really happy to get out there.''
After a quick bath on an overcast morning, Zenyatta was walked around the grassy area behind the barn that faces the street for some leisurely grazing. People driving by started to pull over for a glimpse and to snap photos of racing's biggest star. Zenyatta was not flustered, munching away contentedly.
Like Cher, Zenyatta had a quick wardrobe change midway through, going from a purple Breeders' Cup blanket to a white one with her name embroidered in bold letters.
While fans clustered outside the fence, Jerry Moss playfully snapped pictures of the news photographers as they jockeyed for shots of his horse.
"There is a little bit of anticipation, but I think everybody is relaxed,'' Shirreffs said, sporting a "60 Minutes'' cap, a souvenir from Zenyatta's recent appearance on the show.
"Zenyatta's doing great. She looked great on the track. She shipped in wonderfully. That part is all good. Now it's just the excitement and the energy that surrounds a Breeders' Cup event, but we have a routine that we follow all the time that grounds us.''
Part of that routine is schooling in an unfamiliar paddock at a track where Zenyatta has never raced. She accompanied the horses for the second race to the saddling area to get a feel for the surroundings.
Zenyatta will gallop again Thursday. Fans can enter Churchill Downs for free to watch Zenyatta and the other Breeders' Cup runners go through their paces.
A 4-year-old trained by David Fawkes, Big Drama started the year with a pair of sharp wins in the Ponche Stakes and the Smile Sprint Handicap, both at Calder.
The next two starts came in Grade 1 stakes at Saratoga. Big Drama ran second both times after encountering trouble.
He wasn't helped by the Breeders' Cup draw, getting the rail as the 7-2 second choice behind Girolamo, the 3-1 favorite. Horses down on the inside are at risk of getting squeezed at the start as rivals maneuver for early position.
Fawkes would gladly settle for no more drama after the last two races.
"I don't hate it,'' he said. "It's the post we drew and now we have to make the best of it. If you have to have the rail, Churchill Downs is the best place to be.''
Big Drama was a highly ranked 3-year-old last season who ran fifth in the Preakness and missed by only a neck in the West Virginia Derby. Fawkes gave the colt a long vacation following a fading effort in the King's Bishop Stakes at Saratoga in August. He didn't return until June.
"That was end of long campaign,'' he said. "He was tired at the end, but he's come back huge.''
The six-furlong Sprint is often a wide-open scramble among some of the sport's fastest runners. Other top contenders include a pair of horses who captured Grade 1 wins last time out. Girolamo took the Vosburgh at Belmont while Smiling Tiger, a 3-year-old, beat older horses in the Grade 1 Ancient Title Stakes at Santa Anita.
Espoir City will be making his first start outside Japan, where the 5-year-old has won 11 of 20 races and almost $6 million.
"Today was sort of the final touchup,'' trainer Akio Adachi said through a translator. "There were no instructions, no specific fractions requested. I just wanted the jockey to feel how the horse was.''
While the time was not exceptional, the 20th fastest of 32 at the distance, Adachi was pleased and believes the horse is ready for the Classic.
"Espoir City is quite versatile,'' he said. "No instructions will be given to the jockey. We will leave it to him. If he breaks well, he can settle wherever. If he doesn't break well, he can cover ground. I'm not concerned.''
And he's not bothered by post No. 11 or the 20-1 morning line odds.
"In his recent races, he has been up front,'' Adachi said. "I'm quite certain that he has the speed to keep up with the pace here. This will be his first time going 1 1/4 miles, but I'm quite confident that he will handle the distance as well.''