LOUISVILLE — The backside crowd stretched along the outside rail, in some instances two-deep, at Churchill Downs on Thursday to get a glimpse of the great mare as she merely took her morning gallop around the racetrack.
Then they followed her back to Barn 41 just to watch Zenyatta receive her morning bath and nibble at some blades of grass. After all, it's not often that a fan gets a chance to see possibly the greatest racehorse of all time.
But if Zenyatta reaches that lofty status by winning her second consecutive Breeders' Cup Classic and her 20th career race without a defeat come Saturday, then she will have earned it.
This is a classic Classic field.
"I think it's as good as it gets," said trainer Al Stall Jr.
The 49-year-old from New Orleans should know, he being the trainer of Blame, the winner of two Grade I races this year: the Stephen Foster at Churchill and the Whitney at Saratoga.
Then there's Quality Road, the winner of the Woodward and the Donn Handicap. Don't forget Haynesfield, who beat Blame in the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup. Or First Dude, who ran second in the Preakness and third in the Belmont. Or Fly Down, who ran second in the Travers. Or Espoir City, who is coming over from Japan.
And don't forget Lookin At Lucky, the Preakness winner who if not for a bad ride in the Santa Anita Derby and a bad post draw for the Kentucky Derby, might be undefeated himself.
"I think this is a field that will silence all the critics," said Lucky's trainer, Bob Baffert. "There's always that little doubt, well maybe against really top, top dirt horses, can she run them down like that? I wanted to see how good she is. I want to see how good Lucky is."
He's plenty good. Since winning the Preakness, Lucky won the Grade I Haskell on Aug. 1 and then the Grade II Indiana Derby on Oct. 2. Baffert claims that Lucky has a stride similar to that of Zenyatta's, and his main reason for skipping the Belmont was to point toward the Classic. He might be the revenge horse, the one who wants to make up for his bad luck on Derby Day.
Haynesfield is the forgotten horse. He had won four races in a row, including the Grade II Suburban Handicap, before finishing fourth in the Whitney at Saragota. The Steve Asmussen-trained entry bounced back to capture the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Oct. 2. He's had a tendency to get worked up in the starting gate. If he can stay calm before Saturday's big crowd, he has a definite shot.
Blame is another who could knock off Zenyatta. Being that the 4-year-old owned by Adele Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm has won three of his four starts at Churchill, some believe he has a home-field advantage.
"Maybe a horse can feel comfortable in his surroundings," said Stall Jr.
"I think Quality Road and Blame are two really good horses," Baffert said. "They can just keep on going. Quality Road can just keep on going."
Plus, his trainer, Todd Pletcher, broke his Derby maiden this year, snapping an 0-for-24 streak. Now Pletcher takes an 0-for-8 streak into the Classic.
But also on the sentimental side, it's the 100th anniversary of historic Claiborne Farm, the long-standing giant in the breeding industry, run by the Hancock family.
"You know Seth keeps things pretty close to the vest," Stall said, "but I'm sure he would be very proud for his father and his grandfather."
As for Baffert, at a Derby Museum event earlier in the week the trainer joked that he was going to feel really bad when Lookin At Lucky beat Zenyatta.
"Everybody went 'ooooooooh.' I said, hey, I'm just joking," said the trainer.
Saturday, the joke could easily be reality.