Zenyatta's charge comes up a head short
BY BETH HARRIS
Blame (with Garrett Gomez up) holds off Zenyatta (8) and jockey Mike Smith at the wire, ending Zenyatta's 19-race winning streak.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Put the blame on Blame for breaking Zenyatta's magnificent winning streak -- and a lot of hearts, too.
Jockey Mike Smith wept. Owners Jerry and Ann Moss stood in stunned silence. Trainer John Shirreffs trudged slowly back to the barn, hands in his pockets.
Nineteen times the people behind Zenyatta led horse racing's superstar to the track. Nineteen times they had celebrated with her in the winner's circle.
Not this time.
Blame beat Zenyatta by a head in a thrilling finish at the Breeders' Cup Classic on Saturday, handing the 6-year-old mare her first defeat. Zenyatta threaded through traffic from last place while the crowd of 72,739 urged her on as she unleashed a monstrous closing kick under the lights at Churchill Downs.
It was so close, a matter of inches, the result had to be resolved by a photo -- a picture that saddened not only Zenyatta's owners and trainer but millions of fans around the world.
It was so close, Ann Moss said she hoped her horse had ''stuck her tongue out'' at the finish.
Smith blamed himself for the loss. He walked off the track with his head down, dirt stuck to his face.
''It was my fault,'' he said, sobbing. ''She should've won.''
Blame went to the front in mid-stretch, then fought off another gutty run by the massive mare, who lagged well behind 11 rivals -- all boys -- in her customary style.
Sent off at 5-1 odds, Blame ran 1- 206-140- miles in 2:02.28. Fly Down was third, and Preakness winner Lookin At Lucky finished fourth.
But the star, even in defeat, was Zenyatta, the sentimental even-money favorite.
''People who didn't know anything about horse racing became fans because of her,'' Blame's jockey, Garrett Gomez, said.
But Blame had home-track advantage. He won twice before on dirt at Churchill, where Zenyatta had never raced.
''She ran an excellent race and just came up a little short,'' Shirreffs said. ''She ran her heart out.''
But Zenyatta's late-running style proved her undoing. She got away slowly from the starting gate and spotted early leader First Dude 15 lengths over the opening half-mile.
At the back of the pack, Smith coaxed Zenyatta to start making up ground. But it was a struggle. She got hit in the face with clods of dirt, something that doesn't happen on a synthetic track.
''She wasn't used to it,'' he said. ''Although she's run on dirt twice, they were really short fields and never got nothing in her face before.
''I just wish I would have been in the race a little earlier because I think the outcome would have certainly been different.''
During the two-day Breeders' Cup championships, American horses earned 12 victories. Europe-based horses won twice.
European import Goldikova successfully defended her title in the $2 million Mile for the third consecutive year. Dangerous Midge won the $3 million Turf, and Pluck won the $1 million Juvenile Turf.
Big Drama led all the way to win the $2 million Sprint; Chamberlain Bridge captured the $1 million Turf Sprint; and 37-1 long shot Dakota Phone won the $1 million Dirt Mile.
Uncle Mo won the $2 million Juvenile, giving trainer Todd Pletcher his third victory of the weekend.