ARCADIA, Calif. - Undefeated 4-year-old filly Zenyatta's name comes from the title of The Police album "Zenyatta Mondatta."
Owner Jerry Moss, a co-founder of A&M Records who had the 1980s supergroup on his label, says the moniker doesn't really mean anything. Maybe, but it appears his superstar has taken a cue from the album's first track, "Don't Stand So Close to Me."
No opponent has been able to this year, the main reason why Zenyatta is a heavy 3-5 favorite in today's $2 million Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic, formerly the Distaff. The race is the highlight of what's being called "Ladies' Day" at Santa Anita, five races for fillies and mares to start horse racing's biggest weekend.
Trainer John Shirreffs called Zenyatta, who is a perfect 8-for-8 this year, the best filly he's ever had and isn't so sure he's seen the best of her yet.
"She keeps improving all the time," Shirreffs said.
That's not good news for the rest of the eight-horse field, including defending champion Ginger Punch and last year's runner-up Hystericalady, though Shirreffs is hardly predicting victory.
"We just take it day by day and look at the small picture rather than the big picture," Shirreffs said.
Both of them look pretty good right now. Then again, why shouldn't they? Moss and his wife, Ann, have had pretty good luck with horses named in tribute to Sting, the Police's lead singer. Giacomo - named after Sting's son - stunned the Kentucky Derby field in 2005, winning as a longshot.
Zenyatta is no longshot, though she is a late bloomer. The filly didn't make her debut until last fall, as Shirreffs waited for the awkward, gangly horse to fill out and get over her jitters in the starting gate.
"There were a lot of little things she needed to learn and it took awhile," Shirreffs said.
Consider her all caught up. Zenyatta won her debut by three lengths at Hollywood Park last fall and hasn't looked back. Though typically slow out of the gate, her massive stride allows her to eat up ground quickly. She's coming off a relatively easy 3-length win in the Lady's Secret Stakes at Santa Anita last month and has had no problem with the track's newly installed synthetic surface.
"She's very versatile," Shirreffs said. "Usually a horse has a little bit of an Achilles' heel or something that may bother them later on or cause them not to run as well, but Zenyatta, she doesn't have any of those things. She's a great racing athlete."
Hystericalady trainer Jerry Hollendorfer thought he had a pretty big horse on his hands until he saw her lined up next to Zenyatta. "She stands out," Hollendorfer said. "Hystericalady is a good-sized filly and very good looking, but she doesn't look too big standing next to Zenyatta."
Zenyatta's size gives her a commanding presence in the paddock, in the barn and on the track, one that Shirreffs thinks she uses to her advantage.
"She's not the least bit intimidated and doesn't pay attention to anything around her," Shirreffs said. "She expects everybody to stop for her."
A win would move her closer to the rarified air of one of the sport's all-time great fillies. Personal Ensign didn't lose in 13 lifetime starts, including an epic victory in the 1988 BC Distaff following a stretch duel with Kentucky Derby champion Winning Colors.
Though Moss has stressed trying not to look too far ahead, he's made no secret of his respect for Personal Ensign and his own horse's run at history.
"I remember how (Personal Ensign), you know, went to the breeding shed completely undefeated and that would be fantastic if we could accomplish something similar to that," he said.
One of the horses with a chance to end Zenyatta's streak is Carriage Trail, trained by Shug McGaughey, who also trained Personal Ensign. McGaughey admits he wasn't exactly impressed the first time he saw Zenyatta as she struggled to a half-length win in the Vanity Handicap in July. But he changed his mind after watching the Lady Secret.
Still, McGaughey cautioned that even a win Friday would leave Zenyatta four short of Personal Ensign's mark. Whether she would return to make a run for it next year is uncertain. Shirreffs said Thursday he anticipates Zenyatta running as a 5-year-old but Moss cautioned last week that a decision about her future wouldn't be made until after the Breeders' Cup.
The Mosses have had plenty of good horses yet have never won a Breeders' Cup race. Even Giacomo finished fourth in the BC Classic in 2006.
The couple has reason to be confident with Zenyatta, though - every little thing she does is magic.