ARCADIA, Calif. — She already has her Eclipse Award, a sterling reputation and credentials that almost certainly will one day earn her a place in the Hall of Fame.
But if Zenyatta can pull off the feat being asked of her Saturday, she will answer the one nagging question that has loomed over her remarkable career.
Those watching the 26th running of the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park could witness an industry milestone as the undefeated mare attempts to become the first female runner to conquer the 11/4-mile test on the second day of the World Championships event.
Zenyatta will be the fourth filly or mare to run in the Classic, joining Azeri (fifth in 2004), Jolypha (third in 1992), and Triptych (sixth in 1986).
Her 13-for-13 career record and seven Grade I wins left the 5-year-old daughter of Street Cry with little left to prove against her gender, prompting her connections to finally give the hulking mare a chance to show she ranks as one of the best handicap horses, period.
However, in what will be her first test against males, Zenyatta is facing a Classic field that boasts nine other Grade I/Group I winners including Summer Bird, who won the Belmont Stakes, top turf star Gio Ponti and the brilliant European runner Rip Van Winkle.
"I guess I always believed in dreaming big, you know," said Jerry Moss, who owns Zenyatta along with his wife, Ann. "I think sometimes those dreams don't come true but at least you get a chance to try them out. We're hoping this time our big dream will work."
The secret to Zenyatta's success is no secret: hang back early and attempt to swallow up her opponents with her patented late kick.
However, a potential problem for Zenyatta is that she could be stuck in a cavalry charge in her first try over the 11/4-mile distance. Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, Pacific Classic victor Richard's Kid, Gio Ponti, and Awesome Gem are also most effective making similar runs.
Godolphin Racing's Regal Ransom appears to be the best candidate to set the pace in the Classic although Quality Road and possibly Summer Bird could force the early fractions.
"If there is no pace he's going to be up on it, and if the pace is fast he can sit back a little bit," said Tim Ice, trainer of Summer Bird. "I definitely feel with his versatility that we're not going to be at any disadvantage either way."
Though Rip Van Winkle is considered the top European threat, Juddmonte Farms' Twice Over is a tank of a specimen and comes into the Classic with three straight wins at 11/4 miles, including the Group I Champion Stakes at Newmarket on Oct. 17.