02/12/2010 12:00AM

Change in stakes would benefit Zenyatta


ARCADIA, Calif. - Santa Anita officials on Friday said they are "discussing the possibility" of changing the conditions of the Grade 1, $250,000 Santa Margarita Invitational on March 13 from a handicap to a stakes race, a development that could result in Zenyatta carrying a much more favorable weight assignment.

Zenyatta is scheduled to make her first start of the year in the Santa Margarita and will use that as a prep for a potential meeting April 9 with Rachel Alexandra in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park.

"We're discussing the possibility," Rick Hammerle, racing secretary at Santa Anita, said in his office Friday morning. "The race is under discussion. We don't want to be the reason why Zenyatta doesn't run. She's potentially going to run for $5 million carrying 123 pounds. Why would she carry 130 pounds for $250,000? It doesn't make any sense."

Mike Harlow, Santa Anita's director of racing, added: "We think everybody in the country wants to see those two horses meet. We want to align ourselves with that."

The Santa Margarita, at 1 1/8 miles, has been part of Santa Anita's stakes calendar since the track opened in the winter of 1934-35. It has been run as in invitational since 1968 and counts among its roster of winners such greats as Busher, Two Lea, Bed o'Roses, Silver Spoon, Gamely, Susan's Girl, Tizna, Glorious Song, Lady's Secret, Bayakoa, Paseana, and Azeri. The race was won last year by Life Is Sweet, who, like Zenyatta, is trained by John Shirreffs.

All of Santa Anita's Grade 1 stakes races for 4-year-olds and older during the winter meeting are run under handicap conditions. But at the fall Oak Tree meeting, similar races - most of them preps for Breeders' Cup races - are run under weight-for-age allowance conditions, similar to the Breeders' Cup.

"I've always been a traditionalist, but the trend in the industry seems to be to get away from handicaps in Grade 1 races," Harlow said. "We're certainly looking at it here."

Zenyatta has not raced since capturing the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 7.

Pretty Unsual has plenty of options

It's not easy keeping up with Pretty Unusual, but jockey agent Tommy Ball is trying. Ball represents jockeys Paul Atkinson and Chantal Sutherland, who collectively were named on Pretty Unusual in three stakes over three days this weekend.

Pretty Unusual, trained by Barry Abrams, was entered with Atkinson named to ride in the Grade 2, $250,000 Santa Maria Handicap on Saturday. Sutherland was named on Pretty Unusual when Abrams entered her in the Grade 2, $150,000 La Canada Stakes on Sunday. But Pretty Unusual drew the outside post in a field of 14 for the La Canada, causing Abrams to enter Pretty Unusual a third time, with Sutherland named to ride, in Monday's Grade 2, $150,000 Buena Vista Handicap, which is run on the turf.

"Barry didn't like his post in the La Canada," Ball said Friday morning in the racing office, before entries were drawn for Monday's card. "I said, 'What if you get a bad post Monday?' He said, 'Then I'll decide.' "

* Dancing in Silks, the Breeders' Cup Sprint winner, heads a list of 12 horses nominated by a Thursday deadline to the Grade 2, $150,000 San Carlos Handicap going seven furlongs next Saturday. Weights for the race are to be issued Sunday. Also among the nominees is Bob Black Jack, who has not raced since winning the Malibu Stakes in December 2008. He has turned in a steady series of works at Hollywood Park in recent weeks.