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Since she's still a working girl and still at least a couple of years away from motherhood, Zenyatta celebrated Mother's Day by exercising 6 furlongs Sunday morning at Hollywood Park. She got the distance in an official 1:15.80, which was just fine for what she needed as far as trainer John Shirreffs is concerned.
If there are no straws in her path, Zenyatta will run next in the $250,000 Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park on June 13. This news was greeted by many of her fans and all of her skeptics (the number of her doubters being akin to the 13 percent who "strongly approved" of the way George Bush did his job at the end of his Presidency) with understandable disappointment. They were led to believe that Zenyatta's 2010 campaign would be a transcontinental carnival of delights, with appearances far and wide, a veritable Cirque de Zenyatta. Owner Jerry Moss certainly left that impression after her victory in the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park last month when he said the team would be looking at grade 1 races at a mile and one-eighth in New York and Kentucky for her subsequent starts. The Vanity fits the bill...except for the New York or Kentucky part.
"You can't ship for every race," Shirreffs said, when asked why Zenyatta is returning to the comfort of her own backyard for her next start. In the broadest sense, the statement is not true. Or, at least, Bill Mott didn't get the memo. During his back-to-back Horse of the Year campaigns, Cigar ran consecutive races at Oaklawn, Pimlico, Suffolk Downs and Hollywood Park in 1995, then the following year put together consecutive races at Nad al Sheba, Suffolk Downs, Arlington Park and Del Mar. He won them all but Del Mar.
Of course, were California's top horses running on conventional dirt, there would be no issue about where Zenyatta has gathered 14 of her 16 wins. Any number of great champions have enjoyed very local campaigns without penalty to their reputations. Native Dancer was 18-for-18 in New York and 3-for-4 elsewhere. Swaps ran 18 of his 25 races at either Santa Anita or Hollywood Park. Forego ran 43 of his 57 races at Aqueduct, Saratoga or Belmont (and paid the price with heavy handicap burdens ). Personal Ensign won 11 of her perfect 13 in New York.
Sky Beauty, who raced through her 5-year-old season, is among the 10 candidates on the Hall of Fame ballot in circulation as we speak. She was 15-for-18 in New York, while carrying as much as 130 pounds, and 0-for-3 when she strayed from camp (although one of those was a near miss in Florida to the very good Dispute). It will be interesting to see if voters forgive her insular record. They were not forgiving whenever considering 1971 champion 3-year-old filly Turkish Trousers for induction. She raced 18 times, all 18 at either Santa Anita, Hollywood or Del Mar. The fact that she won 12 didn't seem to matter.
When Shirreffs says "you can't ship for every race" he is politely leaving off the "or else you could ruin your horse" ending. For evidence, please turn to the pages that catalog the carnage among 3-year-old colts this time each year as they travel far and wide to qualify for and then pursue Triple Crown events. Shirreffs is also talking about Zenyatta in particular, and what he learned about the effects of her three well-spaced shippings from California, which included the aborted Churchill Downs start in May of 2009.
"Dehydration," Shirreffs said. "No matter how well the ship goes, it takes her time to recover. She's a big mare, and she can still get a little wound up when she travels." This you can blame on Zenyatta's dam, Vertigineux, whose other offspring have shown excitable tendencies. Thanks, mom. According to the trainer, Zenyatta required a quiet week or so after returning from her win No. 16 in the April 9 Apple Blossom, waiting for her system to be restored before doing anything at all.
"You don't like to see the veins stand out," Shirreffs noted. "You like to see a horse at least a little round, a little soft, at least in appearance. That means they're well hydrated. And you don't want to do much with them until they return to that point. She's back to that now."
Such shop talk will come as a surprise to those who were under the impression that Shirreffs merely flips the switch labeled "Z-Launch," and the rest comes as naturally as tapping molasses. It doesn't, and if the price of seeing Zenyatta perform outside of California this year is taking the occasional free square out West, what the heck? Her supporters will concede that winning the Vanity, even under Sky Beauty kind of weight, will prove very little. The real challenge that day will be for Hollywood Park management to finally step up and take full advantage of California's single biggest draw (last Saturday's attendance for Rail Trip's comeback was a feeble 5,537--I said hi and thanks for coming to most of them). There is a Zenyatta bobblehead giveaway planned. We'll see.
If there needs to be one, the alternative to the Vanity is the $250,000 Odgen Phipps Handicap at Belmont Park on June 12 at a mile and one-sixteenth. It would be great if Zenyatta were nominated to both events, if only to watch the racing secretaries agonize over the weight she would carry. To his credit, Shirreffs at least tested the waters.
"I called the racing office back there to ask about stalls," said the trainer of the unbeaten, two-time champion and Breeders' Cup Classic winner. And what was the reaction? They'd send a limo, arrange a jet, suite at the Garden City, box at Yankee Stadium?
"I was told the application was available on-line," Shirreffs replied.
At least that's nice to know.
REINIER Zenyatta isn't a fraud. Grow a brain!
Kram, Why do we overate that Secretariat ? He only won 75% of his starts.
Was that amazing or what ??? People who believe that Zenyatta's team are still after the HOTY do not realize that getting that 17th in a row was much much more valuable in placing her in the history book than an east coast biased award.
New York Vinnie: The year just started? We're in June, man! The sport is now full of ultra-conservative, let's play-it-safe owners who'd rather take the easy way out instead of taking on real challenges. Without owners like JJ, it would have been unlikely to see Curlin in all the Triple Crown races, including the thrilling match-up vs Rags to Riches; he probably would not have been in Dubai, or raced as a 4-year old; and RA would have never faced the boys. How was he rewarded? HOTY award three years in a row, two future hall of famers, a hot commodity stallion like Curlin, the richest horse of all time, and a priceless mare for the breeding shed. If Zenyatta has nothing left to prove (I couldn't disagree more), she should be retired to the breeding shed. Sometimes a horse proves more in defeat that by winning. This is not an east-coast bias; what most fans and writers have a bias against is 4-horse fields, and challenge-less campaigns ala "undefeated" 16-0 boxers who'd seldom face the music.
Ruffian never broke any track records.
I never really believed Zenyatta would be travelling too much, but I truly believed she'd be entered in the Hollywood GC and the Pacific Classic. The only reason to run in the Vanity is to continue taking the easy way out; they've already announce that they'll be looking at the Clemente Hirsch next. Dissapointing, and yet, no surprises here. It is to be expected from the ultra-conservative, let's-play-it-safe mentality her team has. This spring has been 100% proof of what's wrong with horse racing. Instead of watching the best horses competing against each other, they do exactly the opposite. No Derby/Preakness winner in the Belmont; Quality Road running once every 3-4 months, and RA, Zenyatta & Unrivaled Belle running in three different races over the SAME weekend... And people still wonder why handle is down...
Zenyatta has won all 16 of her races. She has won 2 Breeders' Cup races. She has won 6 straight Grade 1 races. In 5 races last year, she won more money than Rachel Alexandra, who raced 8 times. And some of you are saying that Sheriffs isn't training her right! If YOU were lucky enough to own Zenyatta, would you rather have Assmussen train her or Sheriffs? Zenyatta is still undefeated and fresh after 3 seasons of racing, Rachel is burned out after a spring and summer of Steve and Jess. I rest my case!
Those that say Zenyatta is afraid of Quality Road or needs to prove something by racing Quality Road just crack me up. Maybe the didn't see the full version of the BBC. They didn't have the opportunity to see QR's 5 minute plus freak out at the starting gate. Zenyatta waited calmly in the starting gate and had to be reloaded with the rest while QR was dragged away. She was professional and unshaken. She then went on to kick butt. Oh, I forgot that didn't count because it was on polytrack. I guess we just scratch that BC out. :) Seems to me Zenyatta is not the one who needs to prove something. The planes and shipping vans go both ways you know. I'm sure Baffert knows that.
Someone mentioned Ruffian in an earlier post and her career. Just the other day I was thinking about this saga between Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra the horse I believe that has had her status diminished is Ruffian. After Rachel Alexandra wins the Mother Goose and Kentucky Oaks by record margins and records times everyone was comparing her Ruffian. When Zenyatta destroyed the same horses and more later on fans of Zenyatta pointed out correctly the inferior competition of Rachel Alexandra. And sadly, that turned out to be the truth. Very bad competion can make a good horse or even a very good horse look super. Rachel Alexandra was exposed for the horse she was, a very good horse. And I think that it also changed many who may of thought that Ruffian was some sort of superhorse.
People are allowed opinions, which is one of the things that makes this sport so much fun. Could Man O' War have beaten Secretariat etc, etc.? However, can we stop the Ruffian was overated nonsense? The notion that she was the beneficiary of some kind of super fast surface (every time she raced they somehow changed the racing surface in some far reaching conspiracy?) when she raced is ludicrous. Also, there are those who say she beat up on inferior competition. These are the same people who say "yeah Secretariat ran 2:24 in the Belmont but who did he beat"? Jay maybe we can ask you to weigh in on this one. I was lucky enough (and old enough) to have seen Ruffian in person. I know she was one of the all time greats. I assume you saw her run. What do you think?