04/10/2010 9:32AM

Zenyatta continues to Blossom

Email

The Apple Blossom wasn't exactly the "Clash of the Titans" with the Gorgon vs. the Kraken, but the crowd of 44,973 at Oaklawn Park on Friday couldn't be faulted if they confused the undefeated ZENYATTA with the mythical winged horse Pegasus. 

Sent off at 1-20 in the field of five, Zenyatta and her co-pilot, Mike Smith, found their customary spot at the back of the pack while BE FAIR, as expected, took up the running through a moderate first quarter in 24.07.  Be Fair faced some token pressure from TAPTAM down the backstretch as Zenyatta relaxed comfortably by her lonesome in last.  The big mare began her patented move on the far turn and the race was never really in doubt.  She wins the way she always wins, widest, fastest, and best. 

Before we wax even more poetic about Zenyatta's obvious merits, it must be mentioned that this wasn't a stellar supporting cast.  JUST JENDA''s performance was wooden, while WAR ECHO's was reminiscent of under-rehearsed dinner theater.  It was obvious who the star of this show was supposed to be and Zenyatta rightly stole the spotlight. 

Zenyatta's fractions won't exactly dazzle the eye, either.  Her final time of 1:50.71, under a hand ride in the easiest fashion after a smooth trip, was four seconds over the track record and her final eighth and three-eighths of a mile were clocked in 13.12 and 37.42 respectively (according to FormulatorWeb). 

Still, she delighted the fans, as she always does, and left us wanting encore after encore. The great mare Personal Ensign passed away on Thursday at the age of 26.  She, like Zenyatta, was undefeated throughout a brilliant career.  Perhaps the baton has been handed from one racing legend to another.  Zenyatta, in the Apple Blossom, didn't fumble the pass. 

No one should blame Zenyatta's connections if they take home their golden egg, give her some downtime, and prepare for the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on their home turf.  They've kept their end of the bargain thus far.  But, in an era where our sports heroes, and role models, show disappointing human failings, almost on a daily basis, it is heartening to know that there is an equine superhero out there.  With apologies to Spider-Man and Stan Lee, with great power comes great responsibility.  Would we like to see a traveling Zenyatta roadshow, where the amazon shows off her wares against the best competition the country has to offer?  We sure would.  With Zenyatta, one could feast their eyes all day long and still have an appetite for more. 

***

The racing train never seems to slow down sufficiently for one to get off the ride, take a deep breath, reflect on the amazing things one has seen, and eventually move on.  Case in point, today's action.  The Blue Grass anchors a huge card at Keeneland while the Arkansas Derby features a few interesting three-year-olds. 

Here are a few horses I'll be watching later this afternoon:

Shakertown:  AFFIRMATIF
Commonwealth:  CONGRESSIONAL PAGE
Arkansas Derby:  NOBLE'S PROMISE
Comely:  TOUCHING BEAUTY

Affirmatif must deal with a long layoff for trainer Todd Pletcher and this big fella always seemed to underachieve last season.  I wonder if this is a case of an immature horse given time to grow into his body.  Despite some disappointing efforts in 2009, Affirmatif earned Beyer Speed Figures of 90 or higher in five of seven starts, and can contend here with a bit of improvement.  The Keeneland Clocker Report is a potentially valuable resource.  For Affirmatif's last workout, they note that he "was going well on own in splits of :23.3 - :47."  Here's the website:

http://ww2.keeneland.com/racing/Lists/Clocker/allitemsalt.aspx

Congressional Page ran some decent races in Florida this winter and may work out a good outside stalking trip in the Commonwealth.  The major question here is the surface.  He has no synthetic experience and there's no telling if he'll like it or not.  If he does, he's got a good chance.  The Keeneland Clocker noted that he "was moving well at finish under rider control" for the March 29 workout.

Surface could be Congressional Page's Waterloo.  In the case of Noble's Promise, it could be distance.  This will be the first start at nine furlongs for this gutsy speed-bred son of Cuvee.  One could certainly make the argument that both Noble's Promise and DUBLIN made premature midrace moves in the Grade 2 Rebel on March 13.  If Robby Albarado times it a bit better this time around, perhaps Noble's Promise will see out this trip.

Touching Beauty sat off a five-ply speed duel in the opening part of her entry-level allowance win on March 14, but then made a wide move into the teeth of the pace.  She made the front and then gamely fought back a rail-skimming challenge in the stretch.  She has a bit more experience than likely race favorite SHE'LL BE DOGGONE, and may be a slightly better price.

More importantly, who do you like this weekend?  I want to know.