01/08/2013 6:45PM

2012 Eclipse Awards: Mizdirection

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photo by: Tom Keyser

Sustained excellence in a niche category carried Mizdirection from anonymity to the top of the sport, thanks to an affinity for the Santa Anita hillside turf course that ultimately made her a finalist for outstanding female sprinter of 2012.

An Eclipse Award is still a longshot reach for Mizdirection. But then so was the idea of winning the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint against colts and geldings first start back from a 161-day break.

A 4-year-old Mizzen Mast filly whose principal owners are sports talk-show host Jim Rome and restaurateur Bill Strauss, Mizdirection is trained by Mike Puype and was bred by Joseph J. Perrotta. The Breeders’ Cup was not high on his list of objectives, but racing manger Alex Solis Jr. thought otherwise.

“Alex talked me into the Breeders’ Cup,” Puype recalled. “A lot the good [males] had been hurt. That’s when we decided to take a shot, and the owners were game.”

The foundation for her autumn campaign actually was laid early in the year, with a changing of the guard on the Santa Anita hill.

The former queen was Unzip Me, a veteran nearing the end of her career. Mizdirection stepped up in her first start of the year Jan. 2, winning the Grade 3 Monrovia by nearly three lengths under Garrett Gomez.

“She was explosive that day, she turned on the afterburners,” Puype said.

For a future broodmare, it was a big graded stakes win. It was a good start to 2012 also for co-owners Kevin Nish, Michael Kramek, Boris Beljak, and Joshua and Danny Grohs.

Their ride was just beginning. Next out, Mizdirection won the $75,000 Clockers’ Corner, “ridden out,” as Mike Smith took over for the injured Gomez.

Her meet was to end on turf in the Grade 3 Las Cienegas. The weather did not cooperate.

The Las Cienegas on April 14 was rained off the hill, moved to dirt.

Mizdirection stayed in, started at 3-10 and won, barely, by a half-length. It was not pretty.

“She was life and death, and completely unimpressive,” Puype said. “Dirt was not her game.”

Back on turf May 27 at Hollywood Park, Mizdirection was expected to return to form. Odds-on in the $75,000 Great Lady M, she finished a dull second, ending her win streak at four.

“She’d had a series of hard races, and like any filly she needed time,” Puype said. “It was a perfect opportunity to give her a little break.”
Mizdirection shipped to Magali Farms for 60 days. When she returned in summer, the question was what to point to.

Solis pitched the Breeders’ Cup idea, though the autumn stakes schedule had changed. The one suitable female turf sprint at Santa Anita was only two weeks from the Breeders’ Cup. As for the Eddie D on opening day, Puype did not want two starts against boys. He wanted Mizdirection to take one shot, for all the marbles. That, or the easy way.

“It was either run in the Sen. Ken Maddy [Oct. 20 vs. fillies] and skip the Breeders’ Cup, or . . . fillies tend to run very well fresh.”

The rest is history. Smith delivered a textbook ride in the $1 million Turf Sprint, rated Mizdirection off a blistering pace, rallied her to the front in deep stretch, and they won by a half-length.

“It actually is an incredible feat,” Puype said, reflecting on a 5-month-and-8-day comeback, the longest layoff victory in Breeders’ Cup history. “I can’t take any of the credit. She did the running.”

Mizdirection, a 5-year-old in 2013, came back firing Jan. 6 in her first start of 2013. She won the Grade 2 Monrovia, improving to 4 for 4 on the Santa Anita hill.