Yet as good as Zenyatta is in the morning, she is better in the afternoons when she races. She was hopelessly beaten in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic, trailing leader Regal Ransom by more than a dozen lengths. Yet she won by daylight. In last month's Lady's Secret she ran the last 16th of a mile in just a little more five seconds, which is sprint speed—astonishing at the end of a race, when most horses are slowing. "We only see that gear in the afternoon," says Shirreffs. As a bonus, her style has also helped preserve her health, since she asks the most of her body for only a small portion of her races.
Seventeen of her 19 victories, including both Breeders' Cup wins, have come on the synthetic surfaces at three California tracks (Hollywood, Santa Anita and Del Mar) a fact used to diminish her place in history—some horsemen loathe synthetic racing surfaces, calling them inconsistent and blaming them for making good horses look bad. This year's Breeders' Cup is on dirt. Zenyatta has won impressively twice on the dirt at Oaklawn Park and trains frequently on Hollywood's dirt training track. "She's looked great at Oaklawn," says Lukas. "People that look at [her success on synthetics] as a chink in the armor had better look elsewhere. I think she'll love Churchill, especially with that long stretch."
From a strategic standpoint, Shirreffs says, "I just don't know how far somebody would have to be in front for her not to catch them. I just don't know."
It is remarkable that Zenyatta has continued to run, long past the age when most great horses are sent to the breeding shed. Moss announced last year after the Breeders' Cup that she was being retired, but he had not consulted with his wife or with Shirreffs. Zenyatta quickly showed them all that she was not ready for a broodmare paddock in Kentucky, bouncing around her barn so energetically that Shirreffs had to train her just to take the edge off. "I don't think any of us were ready to see her go," he says. "And she wasn't ready to go, either." (Even now, Moss won't commit to retiring Zenyatta after the Breeders' Cup.)
Zenyatta ran four races this year in California against modest competition, and also returned to Arkansas to again win the Apple Blossom, where Rachel Alexandra was absent after being scheduled to meet her. (Rachel, who won only two of her five starts this year, was subsequently retired.) The soft schedule has been criticized, but Zenyatta's detractors will fall silent if she wins in Kentucky. Her sport struggles, and she cannot restore it to the age of Citation. But she can help evoke it. On a recent morning she grazed behind her barn at Hollywood, docile as a house cat. Two visitors to the backstretch wandered past and stroked her forehead, touching history.