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STABLE NOTES BY ED GOLDEN
ZENYATTA RETURNS TO SPOTLIGHT ON FRIDAY MINUS RACHEL ALEXANDRA
Racing fans the world over would have been focused feverishly on the Apple Blossom Invitational Handicap at Oaklawn Park tomorrow if Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra were to have met as planned.
Instead, Zenyatta will fly solo and attempt to extend her perfect record to 16 straight victories in the nine-furlong race which drew five entrants and offers its customary purse of $500,000 rather than the $5 million that would have been on the table had both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta run.
After Rachel Alexandra was upset in her 4-year-old debut March 13 in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes, which was to have been a prep for an Apple Blossom showdown, trainer Steve Asmussen and majority owner Jess Jackson scrubbed the proposed Race for the Ages against Zenyatta.
But Zenyatta runs as scheduled (post time is listed at 4:25 p.m.), and her fans are looking forward to another dramatic performance from the 6-year-old mare owned by Jerry and Ann Moss and trained by John Shirreffs. Her charisma and her Silky Sullivan running style have captivated the racing community. Whether she ever meets Rachel Alexandra on the race track remains open to speculation.
Understandably, her ardent devotees never tire of watching her run, especially those in the Golden State, where the California Girl makes her home at Hollywood Park, a few furlongs from Santa Anita, the site of her greatest victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic last Nov. 7.
Since adding the Santa Margarita Handicap to her impeccable resume with yet another implausible last-to-first blitzkrieg on March 13, Zenyatta’s legend has only grown.
“I’m absolutely amazed that Zenyatta’s done everything you would have asked of her,” said Hall of Fame trainer McAnally, who conditioned champion females Bayakoa and Paseana. “She’s such a big, long-striding mare, and to win like she does, especially in the Santa Margarita, when she was last turning for home and won going away, is remarkable. She’s just a great mare. I’m amazed every time she runs. It’s unbelievable.
“I think Shirreffs has done a marvelous job with her, spacing her races and doing the right thing with her. I liked Zenyatta against Rachel Alexandra before the (Horse of the Year) voting and I liked her after the voting. I thought the Eastern voters made a big mistake making Rachel the Horse of the Year. The people back East have more votes than they have out here and I think they realize now that they made a huge mistake.
“I know Rachel wasn’t fit enough to win her first out in New Orleans this year. I could see the handwriting on the wall right from the beginning. But even had she been fit and they ran together tomorrow in the Apple Blossom, to me there’s no question that Zenyatta would have beaten her.”
“I really thought that Rachel Alexandra deserved Horse of the Year, but at the same time, I never had any doubt in my mind, and I don’t even need to see them run against each other, to know that she’s not as good as Zenyatta,” said veteran trainer Paul Aguirre, who saddled Malibu Artiste to win Wednesday’s fourth race.
“I’ve been around racing 30 years. There are things a lot of us trainers don’t know, but we all know a freak when we see a freak, and Zenyatta stands head and shoulders above all the horses I’ve ever seen.”
“I always thought Zenyatta would beat Rachel Alexandra on any surface, as long as it wasn’t in a match race, where Rachel would get an easy lead,” offered trainer Vladimir Cerin. “Zenyatta should have been Horse of the Year in 2009, because what she accomplished last year was enough to make her one of the all-time great race mares. Rachel Alexandra accomplished a lot, but we don’t know if she’s one of the all-time greats. So if you’re one of the all-time greats, and the other one is or isn’t, you should be Horse of the Year, no question about it.
“I’d like to see Rachel Alexandra do well and I’d love to see them compete against each other, but obviously, they’re afraid of Zenyatta and they’re not going to run against her.”
“Rachel Alexandra is a wonderful, beautiful, lovely filly, but I think Zenyatta is far superior,” said Kathy Walsh, a successful trainer for more than four decades. “But by the same token, I think Rachel Alexandra ran against a class of 3-year-olds that maybe were sub par last year, maybe not. None of them jumped up real strong after she beat them, and the older horses she beat in the Woodward seemed to go downhill afterwards.
“But Zenyatta took on the best in the world and won as she pleased. Opinions are going to be East versus West, and that’s never going to change. I was in Hot Springs recently and the arguments were about which horse was best, but I’ll tell you this: they were all waiting for Zenyatta to come there.”
EURTON FINDS SOFTER SPOT FOR LUCKY RAVE IN LA PUENTE STAKES
After chasing the likes of Lookin At Lucky, Who’s Up, Conveyance and Make Music for Me, trainer Peter Eurton expects an improved performance from Lucky Rave in Saturday’s $100,000 La Puente Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles on turf. The English-bred son of Lucky Story is coming off three straight one-mile stakes races.
“It seems like the extra distance could help him,” Eurton said. “David Flores will ride him for the first time, and he worked him Wednesday on the grass (three furlongs in :37.60).”
The meet has been somewhat frustrating for Eurton, who had three wins from 55 starters through Wednesday, with 13 seconds and six thirds. But he knows racing can be cyclical. “It always seems like there’s a meet like this,” he said. “I came out of here last year with 14 wins, I went into Hollywood Park and had two, but one was disqualified, so I ended up with one win for the whole meet. Hopefully, things will pick up at Hollywood.”
The field for the La Puente: Runaway Bandido, Michael Baze; Coloursoftheglen, Alonso Quinonez; El Mirage King, Tyler Baze; Lucky Rave, David Flores; Fantastic Pick, Joel Rosario; Turns My Head, Brice Blanc; Ace of Aces, Martin Garcia; Dream Nettie, Joe Talamo; and Bogie, Alex Solis.
HRTV AIRS GRAND NATIONAL FROM AINTREE SATURDAY
HRTV will carry live coverage of the prestigious Grand National steeplechase event from Aintree Racecourse in Merseyside, England, on Saturday. Post time is 8:15 a.m.
The 163rd running of the Grand National, which is the centerpiece of Aintree's three-day April meeting, is contested at approximately 4 1/2 miles, and includes 30 fences. It is the most valuable steeplechase event in Great Britain.
FINISH LINES: Through Wednesday, Rafael Bejarano needed 15 wins to reach 100 prior to the meet’s end on April 18. The last rider to reach the century mark during Santa Anita’s winter/spring session was Kent Desormeaux with 112 in 1994-95. This will be Bejarano’s third straight Santa Anita crown. He won in 2008-09 with 99 victories, and in 2007-08 with 67. Bejarano also leads nationally in purse earnings with nearly $3.8 million . . . Alex Solis, Garrett Gomez and Victor Espinoza are at Keeneland today, where they ride Starlarks, Direct Line and Witty, respectively, in the Grade I, $300,000 Vinery Madison Stakes at seven furlongs . . . Vladmir Cerin says Cigar Man is “doing really well” for Saturday’s $60,000 Santana Mile, “but he needs pace to run at. We were hoping to run in a stakes race with a big field where there would be a hot pace, but that hasn’t happened.” . . . Dan Ward, assistant to Jerry Hollendorfer, said that three-time Grade I winner and Eclipse Award finalist Blind Luck is scheduled to work at Santa Anita Sunday under Bejarano for the Grade I Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on April 30. “She got back Monday afternoon about one o’clock (from winning the Fantasy Stakes on traditional dirt at Oaklawn Park) and jogged yesterday,” Ward said. “Everybody is saying that she can’t run on this (synthetic main) track, but she’s won two Grade I’s on it (the Oak Leaf Stakes and the Las Virgenes Stakes) . . . If she runs on dirt and they go :50 (for a half mile) and 1:15 (for six furlongs), then she won’t like it, either.” . . . Agent Tom Knust reports that 16-year-old apprentice Tyler Kaplan is riding at Turf Paradise to gain experience, but is set to return at Hollywood Park early next month . . . Kathy Walsh said multiple graded stakes winner Georgie Boy is back in training at the Pegasus facility in Redmond, Washington . . . Tomorrow is the next-to-last Free Friday at Santa Anita this meet. Patrons will receive free General Admission and box seats, while supplies last, as well as being offered $1 hot dogs, beers, sodas, popcorn and coffee . . . HRTV's Kurt Hoover and Jason Levin, radio host of "Inside Racing,” will be Jack Disney’s guests on Sunday’s Fans’ Forum, 11:15 a.m., in the East Paddock Gardens.