Perfect Ladies - by Dan Liebman

Down by more than a touchdown at halftime, the Tennessee Titans came from behind Nov. 16 to defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Titans are the only unbeaten team in the NFL, with a 10-0 record.

In 2007, excited pro football fans thought they were witnessing a perfect season. Alas, the New England Patriots lost in the Super Bowl, leaving the 1972 Miami Dolphins—winners of Super Bowl VII—as the only undefeated team (17-0) since the modern NFL began play in 1970.

There is something special about those who refuse to lose, though it is virtually impossible in many sports, such as pro baseball, which plays a 162-game regular season, and pro basketball, which hits the court for 82 games before its lengthy playoff season begins.

Seven times a team has gone undefeated in NCAA basketball, but the feat has not been accomplished since 1976, when the Indiana Hoosiers posted a 32-0 record. Much like racing’s Golden Age in the 1970s with three Triple Crown winners, college basketball had three unbeaten teams, as John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins went a combined 60-0 in 1972 and 1973. (Wooden’s 1964 and 1967 teams also went 30-0.)

Thoroughbred racing has had its share of undefeated runners, and they hold special places in the hearts of fans as well.

In this issue of The Blood-Horse are stories about two North American fillies that come from very different backgrounds and have faced extremely different levels of competition, but have one big thing in common: they have never lost.

Though it is Zenyatta who has won four grade I races and has her connections making plans to attend the Eclipse Awards ceremony in January, it is Peppers Pride who graces the cover. Her pedigree is blue-collar, and she has never raced outside her native New Mexico, but Peppers Pride has faced the starter on 18 occasions and had her picture taken a like number of times.

When she won the New Mexico Cup Fillies and Mares Stakes Nov. 9, Peppers Pride won her 18th consecutive race, extending the record for the modern-day Thoroughbred. Her 17th victory broke the mark she held with Triple Crown winner Citation, two-time Horse of the Year Cigar, Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) winner Mister Frisky, and Louisiana-bred and -based Hallowed Dreams.

Peppers Pride also represents a sign of the times. Though her breeder/owner Joe Allen lives in Texas, he stands two stallions in New Mexico and bred Peppers Pride there. New Mexico has purses enhanced by revenue from slot machines; Texas does not. Peppers Pride has made all of her starts in the Land of Enchantment, where gaming revenue has helped her amass earnings of $991,085.

The 5-year-old mare, by Desert God—Lady Pepper, by Chili Pepper Pie, is due to make one more start this year for trainer Joel Marr, in the New Mexico State Racing Commission Handicap Dec. 14 at Sunland Park. Then Allen will have a decision to make.

Only an owner can decide whether or not to keep a horse in training or send it to the breeding shed. Every time Peppers Pride makes a start, the winning streak is on the line. But Allen, to his credit, has said repeatedly that retiring her unbeaten is secondary to retiring her sound.

Zenyatta’s owners, Jerry and Ann Moss, have said the filly will remain in training in 2009. The 4-year-old Zenyatta, by Street Cry—Vertigineux, by Kris S., is a perfect nine-for-nine following her win Oct. 24 in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (gr. I). No one would have second-guessed the Mosses in retiring Zenyatta, thus kudos to them are in order for keeping the contender for Horse of the Year in training with conditioner John Shirreffs.

We will have our eyes on Sunland Park Dec. 14 and await the news of when Zenyatta will run again.

There is a specialness about being undefeated.

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