11/23/2009 12:00AM

Cigar Mile, Gazelle good one-two punch


NEW YORK - Zenyatta, one of the two best horses in the United States in 2009, will be seen this holiday weekend. She won't be seen in a race, however. Zenyatta, of course, was retired after making the Breeders' Cup Classic the 14th win of her perfect career. So when she appears Sunday at Hollywood Park, it will be to parade before the fans, giving her and the public an opportunity to bid farewell. Those who attend will receive a DVD featuring all 14 of Zenyatta's starts, a very cool giveaway.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the busy stakes schedule over this extended Thanksgiving weekend, not one of the 16 graded events to be run at Aqueduct, Churchill Downs, or Hollywood will have a horse who could be confused with Zenyatta. Then again, that would be a tall order. But even if these graded stakes events lack Zenyatta-like star power, there are some interesting scenarios and offer something for every discerning handicapper, from the annual novelty of Aqueduct's Fall Highweight Handicap to the Hollywood Derby, which foretells some major players in the 2010 turf division.

The Hollywood Turf Festival features five graded stakes races on grass. The Grade 1 Hollywood Derby, to be run on Sunday, was won last year by Court Vision, who capitalized on a tough trip by the beaten favorite, Gio Ponti. Court Vision won the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile this year while Gio Ponti was easily America's most accomplished turf performer, winning four straight Grade 1 events, He became the favorite to win the older male divisional championship off his second to Zenyatta in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Take the Points, winner of two straight Grade 1 turf stakes over 3-year-olds, and Battle of Hastings, who is only a nose and a head away from being able to say he has won five graded stakes this season, look the best equipped among the Hollywood Derby contenders to accomplish meaningful things next year.

Friday's Citation Stakes at Hollywood is an okay race even if the crew of Cowboy Cal, Ever a Friend, Monzante, and Whatsthescript fall short of the event's Grade 1 status. That is not the case, however, with Hollywood's Matriarch on Saturday. The Matriarch is topped by the fine mare Ventura, who was strong beating males in the Woodbine Mile two starts back and a solid second last time out in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint over a track that at least in sprints played against deep closers like her. Ventura will be joined by Diamondrella, who won two Grade 1 races this year over champion Forever Together, and Rutherienne, who tried hard in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at a distance clearly beyond her scope. The Matriarch is the weekend's highlight out West, next to Zenyatta's appearance, of course.

Churchill Downs promotes its closing card on Saturday as the "Stars of Tomorrow II" program, with the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club for 2-year-olds and the Grade 2 Golden Rod for juvenile fillies. As late-season two-turn dirt races for 2-year-olds, these races are always of interest. But the Kentucky Jockey Club, in particular, always gains undue respect because it is run at the same track as the Kentucky Derby. Churchill also runs $5,000 claiming races. That doesn't mean a recent winner of one has a better chance of winning next year's Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill than a stakes horse who has never raced at Churchill.

Friday's Grade 2 Clark Handicap is the high point at Churchill. This year's Clark boasts Santa Anita Handicap winner Einstein, Foster winner Macho Again, and Whitney winner Bullsbay, but the race suffers from a weak 2009 male handicap division. It will be interesting to see how a relative newcomer to this group, Etched, who is 5 for 5 in the U.S., measures up.

At Aqueduct, this will be the last weekend of important racing until April. Saturday's Grade 1 Cigar Mile and Grade 2 Remsen, two of Aqueduct's six graded races to be run over the holiday, are quality events. The Cigar Mile looks especially compelling. It could attract, among others, Grade 1 Met Mile winner Bribon, Grade 1 Vosburgh winner Kodiak Kowboy, Grade 1 Forego winner Pyro, three-time Grade 1 winner Vineyard Haven, and two-time Grade 2 winner Munnings. And if there is any doubt about the Cigar Mile being the best race of the weekend, it would vanish if Grade 1 winner Quality Road, who I believe is the best pure miler in the country, joins the party.

But from a standpoint of intrigue, Saturday's Grade 1 Gazelle doesn't fall too short of the Cigar Mile. The Gazelle, which used to be run early in the Belmont fall meet, appears likely to lure Grade 1 Test winner Flashing and maybe two-time Grade 2 winner Justwhistledixie. But the real attraction here is Stardom Bound, who will be making her first start since her Grade 1 stakes winning streak was stopped at five when she was third in the Ashland last April. This will be the first start on dirt for Stardom Bound, who, you might recall, was the dominant member of her generation until the emergence of a filly named Rachel Alexandra.