05/09/2010 4:51PM



Zenyatta grazes 

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.

Zenyatta shower "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.