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STABLE NOTES BY ED GOLDEN
HORSE OF YEAR OPINIONS HOT AND HEAVY AS ANNOUNCEMENT NEARS
Horse of the Year 2009 will be announced Monday night at the annual Eclipse Awards dinner in Beverly Hills. There are two finalists: the filly Rachel Alexandra, unbeaten in eight starts as a 3-year-old, winning at seven different tracks, defeating males three times, including in the Preakness Stakes and the Woodward Stakes; and the mare Zenyatta, now six, who made history by becoming the first female to defeat males in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, climaxing an undefeated career in 14 starts.
Their unprecedented accomplishments have polarized the racing industry, although a gray area also exists. Both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta have drawn equal praise. Some say it would be unfair for either to lose. But one will. Following is an informal sampling of opinions from local media and horsemen:
TRAINER BARRY ABRAMS: “They both deserve it. Honestly, I can’t give it to one over the other. At different times of the year, they both were brilliant. They beat the best they had to face. Unfortunately, they never met, but somebody has to get it, because there’s no such thing as a dead-heat. I’ll be disappointed no matter who doesn’t get it.”
STEVE ANDERSEN, DAILY RACING FORM: The selection was Zenyatta, but it was a closer call than expected.
Rachel Alexandra's race in the Woodward Stakes was her most impressive performance of the year. They came at her in stages that day--early in the race, on the turn and in deep stretch--and she repelled all of them. It's a shame that she didn't run in the Breeders' Cup--the Classic or the Ladies' Classic.
Instead, the Breeders' Cup belonged to Zenyatta. She displayed her brilliance against males over a distance she had never tried, a truly electrifying performance. It must be remembered that two of the horses that she ran past in the final furlong are likely to be champions--the older male Gio Ponti and the 3-year-old male Summer Bird.
SYNDICATED HANDICAPPER JERRY ANTONUCCI: My vote would go to Zenyatta because I've watched her all year long and her victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic was special. Should Rachel Alexandra receive the nod, I wouldn't be put out by it, but I sure would have liked to seen her in the Classic.
AARON HESZ OF HANDICAPPERS’ REPORT: “I believe both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta collectively completed two of the most brilliant campaigns of any female race horse ever. Both are worthy of the hyperbole and accolades that have been tossed their way. I think because Zenyatta showed up and beat males on racing’s biggest day after beating Life Is Sweet three times through the year, she is deserving of Horse of the Year. But I think Rachel Alexandra will win the award.
HRTV ANALYST KURT HOOVER: “I don’t mean this in a flippant way, but I really don’t care. I enjoy watching Kobe Bryant and Lebron James play basketball, and to me, it doesn’t matter who wins the MVP Award. Same with these two horses. Whoever wins will be a very deserving champion.
SYNDICATED HANDICAPPER BOB IKE: "Going into the BC Classic, I thought there was no way Zenyatta could win Horse of the Year, no matter what she did in that race. But after that performance, I did a 180-degree turn. Her win was so devastating--on the biggest day, against the best field--that I had to vote for her.
JON WHITE, SANTA ANITA MORNING LINE ODDSMAKER AND INTER-TRACK HOST: Both are truly great fillies, future Hall of Famers who had incredible years. Either one is deserving, but Zenyatta stole the show on Breeders’ Cup day.
If I were to make a morning line for 2009 Horse of the Year, I'd make Rachel Alexandra an odds-on favorite. As for me, I voted for Zenyatta. Having to choose between Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta as Horse of the Year was by far the toughest Eclipse Award decision I've ever had to make. And my participation as an Eclipse Award voter goes back to 1976 when I voted for Seattle Slew as champion 2-year-old male and Forego as champion older male and Horse of the Year.
One of the reasons I voted for Zenyatta is she beat eight Grade I winners when she won the Breeders' Cup Classic. Not only was Zenyatta the first female to win the Classic, she became the first horse of either sex to win two different Breeders' Cup races. Beyond all that, it was significant to me that Zenyatta won the Vanity Handicap under 129 pounds. No other horse won a Grade I race in the United States last year under so much weight.
On the other hand, Rachel Alexandra had one of the greatest campaigns by a 3-year-old filly in history. I have to say that I really identified with what Dick Jerardi (of the Philadelphia Daily News) wrote regarding his vote for Rachel Alexandra. Jerardi said that he didn't feel good about voting for Rachel Alexandra because he thinks Zenyatta deserves to be Horse of the Year, too. And that's exactly how I felt when I cast my vote for Zenyatta. I didn't feel good about it because I honestly think Rachel Alexandra deserves to be Horse of the Year, too.
TRAINER GARY STUTE: Before the Breeders’ Cup, I was very pro-Rachel Alexandra. But after the Breeders’ Cup, I’ve got to go with Zenyatta.
MICHAEL BAZE: I hope Zenyatta wins, but I think it will be Rachel Alexandra.
RAFAEL BEJARANO: Both are great horses.
GARRETT GOMEZ: Zenyatta. The Breeders’ Cup was established to bring potential champions together on one day, and she showed up. The one thing that could get Rachel Alexandra beat was Zenyatta winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and that’s exactly what she did. I think that stole Horse of the Year from Rachel Alexandra.
DANNY SORENSON: Zenyatta. She’s accomplished everything that could be asked of a horse. That’s not taking anything away from Rachel Alexandra. I just think Zenyatta had the type of season that should grant her Horse of the Year.
HALL OF FAME JOCKEY EDDIE DELAHOUSSAYE: They’re both champions in my eyes.
PAPA CLEM: TOO SHARP FOR SAN FERNANDO STAKES?
Papa Clem comes into Saturday’s Grade II $150,000 San Fernando Stakes at 1 1/16 miles off three straight bullet breezes, even though trainer Gary Stute is on record as saying the son of Smart Strike is not the most diligent work horse.
“He’s working better than he was late last year,” Stute said. “The last two works were good, but the first one after the Malibu seemed to wake him up. That was really good. Seven furlongs isn’t a bad distance for him, but I think he probably was a little short.”
The Malibu Stakes at seven furlongs on Dec. 26 was Papa Clem’s first start since last Sept. 6, when he finished seventh in the Del Mar Derby at 1 1/8 miles on turf. Papa Clem won the Arkansas Derby, but hasn’t won since, finishing fourth in the Kentucky Derby and sixth in the Preakness. The San Fernando, exclusively for 4-year-olds, has Stute concerned, but in an unexpected manner.
“This race looks awful easy on paper,” he said. “I’m nervous. There’s more pressure when you’re 8-5 than 10-1. Like I told HRTV, ‘Either he’s not as good a horse as I think he is, or I’m not as good a trainer, if he loses this one.’”
The field for the San Fernando, second leg of the Strub series: Smart Bid, Mike Smith, 9-2; Viscount, Garrett Gomez, 6-1; Rendezvous, Rafael Bejarano, 9-2; Papa Clem, Tyler Baze, 3-1; Mr. Hot Stuff, Joe Talamo, 8-1; Mythical Power, Joel Rosario, 4-1; Gallant Son, Alex Solis, 8-1; and Quindici Man, Victor Espinoza, 10-1.
HIGH COURT DRAMA NOT ON TRIAL FOR MONDAY’S SAN MARCOS
Rain or shine, turf or synthetic, Michael Baze is confident about High Court Drama in Monday’s Grade II $150,000 San Marcos Stakes for older horses scheduled for a mile and a quarter on turf.
“I think he has a great chance either way,” the 22-year-old rider said. “He’s a very nice horse to ride, very easy to ride. You just put him in a stalking position and he gives you a good effort. He can handle the turf, the synthetic, just whatever you want him to do. I really love his chances.”
A 5-year-old Irish-bred horse by 1987 male turf champion Theatrical, High Court Drama won an optional claiming race on Hollywood Park’s turf course in his U.S. debut last Nov. 15, followed by a second in the Grade III Native Diver Handicap on Cushion Track Dec. 12. Trained by Doug O’Neill for Chris McHale of Essex of the United Kingdom, High Court Drama has a 3-4-1 record from 12 starts, with earnings of $111,039.
The field for the San Marcos: Loup Breton, Garrett Gomez; Muhannak, Martin Pedroza; Dynamic Range, Victor Espinoza; Riviera Cocktail, Joel Rosario; Zappa, Mike Smith; Porfido, Joe Talamo; Pearl Fisher, Jose Valdivia Jr.; High Court Drama, Michael Baze; and Aggie Engineer, Alex Solis.
NO JOY FOR SCOTT; FACES RETIREMENT After 28 years in the saddle, the woman who has won more races than any female jockey in the history of Southern California racing is about to call it a career.Citing severe financial hardships, Joy Scott said Friday morning at Clockers’ Corner her retirement is imminent.
“They’re going to foreclose on my house on Feb. 19,” Scott said. “I’ve battled the system for years, and despite the fact that I live 20 minutes from here in the San Fernando Valley, it hasn’t made enough of a difference in getting mounts. I did OK riding Arabians at Los Alamitos where I was the leading rider in that category for five or six years in a row, but after suffering serious injuries there several years ago, I lost my Thoroughbred business at Santa Anita. Some of the people I rode for also passed away.
“When they didn’t allow Arabians back in at Los Alamitos, there went my little income and the minor status I had to keep me going and winning races. It was fun to win, plus it paid the mortgage, up until last June, when the Arabians went on the fair circuit and didn’t come back.”
The 51-year-old Scott also has other financial commitments, including her 22-year-old son Jesse’s expenses at UC Berkeley, where he is a junior. “I have no agent, and when I would go to the draw to ride a horse I had that was decent, it would be hustled away,” Scott said. “I love all my fellow riders, but some ride five and six a day and can’t hit the board, yet still get mounts.
“I have one more horse to ride for an old client of trainer Paul Bellasis’. I’m still strong and still have the passion to ride, but the money burden is just too much right now.”
FINISH LINES: HRTV will carry the much-anticipated Horse of the Year announcement live Monday from the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. The announcement is expected to take place at 7:15 p.m. As previously announced, TVG has exclusive coverage of the Eclipse Awards, but will allow HRTV to also carry the announcement live on their network. HRTV’s “Inside Information: Nowhere to Run,” which was awarded a 2009 Eclipse Award for National Television Feature Honorable Mention, will have a special encore presentation Sunday at 6 p.m. The show, which debuted in September, highlights the impact of Hurricane Katrina on Fair Grounds Race Course and the horse racing community. In an ironic twist, HRTV’s Executive Producer, Amy J. Zimmerman, will accept the award Monday night for Rob Hyland of NBC, who won an award with his feature on “Mine That Bird.” “Rob called earlier this week and can’t attend because of a conflict with work,” said Zimmerman. “He asked me if I would accept it for him and I am honored to do so.” Zimmerman was also a producer on ESPN’s 2009 Belmont telecast which won this year’s Eclipse Award for National Television Live Programming. It was the 13th time Zimmerman has been a producer on an Eclipse Award winning production . . . Track superintendent Richard Tedesco said rain is expected late Sunday night, “six to eight inches over the whole week. I may close the track for workouts Monday morning, because we’re racing that day.” Joked trainer Vladimir Cerin: “If you were a really good trackman, you wouldn’t let it rain.” . . . Santa Anita morning line oddsmaker Jon White correctly tabbed all 16 betting favorites at Santa Anita on Wednesday and Thursday . . . Oak Leaf Stakes winner Blind Luck, a finalist for an Eclipse Award as outstanding 2-year-old filly of 2009, worked five furlongs on Pro-Ride Friday in 1:01.40 under Rafael Bejarano. “She finished up real nice,” said trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, who is preparing her for the Grade I Las Virgenes Stakes on Feb. 6. “We don’t work them fast anyway.” Reminded that leading trainer Bob Baffert has an affinity for bullet works, Hollendorfer said, “He does that better than anybody. I’d like to be a little more like him. I can’t knock it.” . . . Super chef Bobby Flay will present the trophy to the winning connections of the Grade II El Encino Stakes on Sunday . . . Paul Atkinson and David Flores ride at Turf Paradise Saturday. Atkinson is named on Malibu Artiste for trainer Carl O’Callaghan in the $50,000 Glendale Handicap, the same race Flores rides Dextera for James Cassidy. Flores also rides Feisty Suances for Darrell Vienna in the $75,000 Cotton Fitzsimmons Mile Handicap . . . All THOROUGHBREDS members will receive a free Santa Anita collectible ice bucket while supplies last on Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. First post time is 12:30 p.m. Gates open at 10:30 a.m. Santa Anita will be dark for live racing on Tuesday and Wednesday, Jan. 19 and 20 . . . Daily Racing Form Chairman and Publisher Steven Crist will be at Santa Anita Saturday to sign his new book and DVD, “Exotic Tickets,” from noon to 1 p.m. The signing will take place at Champions! Gift Shop, located in the East Paddock Gardens . . . Entering Thursday’s races, there were 95 contestants alive in ShowVivor.