Q & A With Zenyatta Trainer John Shirreffs

On Saturday, Zenyatta will put her perfect 10-0 record on the line in the $250,000 Vanity Handicap, a race that she won by a half-length a year ago. The sensational 5-year-old mare will likely get her first real test of season in the 1 1/8-mile contest at Hollywood, mainly because she will be forced to carry 129 pounds.

The most popular California-based horse in training, Zenyatta's second half of 2009 will be very interesting. How many times will she run? Where will she run? Will there be a showdown with Rachel Alexandra on the horizon or will she try the boys in the Breeders' Cup Classic?

There are many questions to be answered, so I thought I'd ask her trainer, John Shirreffs, to shed some light on her future. You might not be able to tell by his response to my first question, but suffice it to say that Shirreffs was not thrilled about Zenyatta being forced to carry 129 pounds on Saturday. I'm wondering how many of you feel about the weight assignment.

Anyway, we'll talk about the Vanity and Rachel's Mother Goose in depth on Friday.


JShan: How do you feel about Zenyatta having to carry 129 pounds?

JShir: No comment.

JShan: Do you have a tentative plan mapped out for the rest of the year?

JShir: It's difficult to answer. She's based in California and I'd like to support California racing, but I don't know how it's going to be in California. We'll probably nominate her to some races other racetracks, but I'm not sure yet.

JShan: What do you mean by "you don't know how it' going to be in California?"

JShir: I mean, I don't know how the tracks are going to be playing. That is a factor. For now, I'd say she'll probably go to the Clement Hirsch next at Del Mar (on Aug. 1), but we'll have to see. Mr. Moss is in Europe right now. I'll have to talk it over with him and Dottie.

JShan: If you decide to keep her only in California, do you think people might hold that against you when it comes time for Eclipse Award voting?

JShir: I'm sure. There is absolutely an East Coast bias when it comes to that. That makes it difficult, especially because the Breeders' Cup is at Santa Anita again. When you plan for the Breeders' Cup you want to make sure she has the best chance to win that race, so I'm not so sure it makes sense to train her around the country. It's very difficult. If the Breeders' Cup weren't at Santa Anita it would be a different situation.

JShan: As far as the Breeders' Cup, have you given any thought to racing her in the Ladies Classic or trying the Classic against the boys?

JShir: A lot is going to depend on Zenyatta and how she is doing.

JShan: Assuming that she is in the terrific form that she was last year, what would you do?

JShir: I'd have to talk it over with the owners.

JShan: It's hard to imagine her being better than she was last year, but is it possible that she is as good as she was then?

JShir: It's hard to be better than perfect, but physically she is doing very well. Her weight is even better than last year and her ability to accelerate is still the same. I haven't seen any drawbacks.

JShan: Can you talk about her popularity amongst fans?

JShir: It's just tremendous, especially with women. But men too. There are many jockey agents who come up to me and say that they never miss one of her races. That is a huge compliment. People just love to watch her.

JShan: Knowing that, would there be any chance that she races again next year?

JShir: I don't think so.

JShan: Are there any plans for her retirement yet, as far as where she would go and who she would be bred to?

JShir: I'm not sure. You would have to ask the owners that queston.


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