Zenyatta, the unbeaten mare who became the first female horse to win the Breeders' Cup Classic last fall, pulled off another come-from-behind run Saturday to win the $250,000 Santa Margarita Invitational in her first race since her historic victory at Santa Anita Park.
But some of the juice went out of Zenyatta's return race before the post-It parade, when the crowd gathered at the paddock and watched 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra -- whose Preakness Stakes win last year was the first by a filly since 1924 -- finish second to Zardana in the $200,000 New Orleans Ladies at Fair Grounds Race Course.
The loss left a much-anticipated $5-million showdown between the horses in the Apple Blossom Handicap on April 9 at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., in question.
Zenyatta, once pointed toward retirement, put on a show at Santa Anita, her path to the lead seemingly blocked coming down the stretch only to overtake Dance To My Tune at the finish of the 1 1/8 mile race, her first since her historic win in the Breeders' Cup Classic on the same course last November.
Zenyatta, paid $2.60, $2.20 and $2.10.
Owner Jerry Moss, speaking after the race, said he had watched Rachel Alexandra lose.
"I'm sorry she lost," he said. "She lost to a better horse today."
Robyn Norwood is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.