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Trainer Al Stall Jr., who will send out 9-2 second choice Blame, calls Zenyatta "beatable." Todd Pletcher, who will saddle Donn Handicap winner Quality Road, considers Zenyatta one of the greats. That doesn't mean he thinks she's the been the best horse in the world this year.
While Shirreffs argues Zenyatta deserves Horse of the Year no matter what happens in the Classic because of what she's done for the sport, Pletcher disagrees.
"This is Horse of the Year 2010, so any accomplishments you have in 2009 don't count," Pletcher said. "This is about 2010 and here it is, all on the line."
Though Shirreffs believes Zenyatta's legacy is secure regardless of the outcome, he's also aware of the unique opportunity at hand.
She is racing's biggest crossover star and an unlikely success story. Owners Jerry and Ann Moss purchased her for a relatively modest $60,000 five years ago, then allowed her to grow at her own pace.
Shirreffs didn't send his gangly pupil out to the track until she was 3, and she began building her reputation as one of racing's greatest closers one heart-stopping race at a time.
Slowly the wins piled up. Ask Shirreffs if there's ever been a time over the last three years in which he thought she'd dug herself a hole she couldn't climb out of and he just laughs.
"Plenty of times," he said.
Yet she comes through. Always. Shirreffs doesn't know where her tenacious drive comes from and is too humble to take the credit. He knows she's more than a star, she's a symbol of what is possible.
"She represents overcoming obstacles," he said.
There's one more standing in the way of perfection. Her final act may be her greatest challenge. One last mad dash to the wire would silence what few critics remain and elevate her into something more than a champion.
"I think it will stamp her," Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. "If she whips them twice in a row in the Classic, I would have to say you'd have to mention her with the Spectacular Bids and Secretariats."
Secretariat owner Penny Chenery is rooting for her. So is the rest of the industry. Baffert admits he'll likely have mixed emotions if Lookin At Lucky spoils the fairy tale ending.
Not Shirreffs. His big girl has done enough.
"It's not the end of the world (if she loses)," he said. "Giving her the opportunity to achieve something that seems almost unattainable is more important."
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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