08/04/2011 1:40PM

Del Mar: Switch aims to stay close in Clement Hirsch Stakes

Shigeki Kikkawa
Switch will try to stay closer to the pace in Saturday's Grade 1 Clement Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar.

DEL MAR, Calif. – Switch has come so close to winning a Grade 1 race around two turns this year that trainer John Sadler is planning only the slightest strategy change before Saturday’s $300,000 Clement Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar.

Jockey Joel Rosario will be asked to rate Switch just behind expected pacesetter Freedom Star, with the hope that a close position can lead to a win in the Grade 1 race over 1 1/16 miles.

“We thought we’d go for a change this time,” Sadler said. “She relaxed a little too much last time. We want more of a stalking trip than we’ve had before.”

Switch has run second in three consecutive Grade 1 races around two turns, losing the Santa Margarita Invitational by a head to Miss Match at Santa Anita in March, the Apple Blossom Invitational by three-quarters of a length to Havre de Grace at Oaklawn Park in April, and the Vanity Handicap by a half-length to Blind Luck at Hollywood Park in June.

In the first two races, Switch was a length or so off the pace. In the Vanity, she closed from three lengths behind the front-runners and just missed. The difference may be subtle, but Sadler thinks a closer trip is what Switch needs to win Saturday.

Furthermore, the Clement Hirsch may determine how Switch is campaigned in the second half of the year. The race is part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series, offering a fees-paid berth to the winner for the BC Ladies’ Classic at Churchill Downs in November. A bad loss could lead Sadler and owners Lee and Susan Searing to point Switch to the BC Filly and Mare Sprint, a race in which she was second last year.

BREEDERS' CUP CHALLENGE: Racing schedule, replays, and past winners »

“I hope we’re in the big one,” Sadler said of the Ladies’ Classic.

In the Hirsch, Switch has six rivals and a formidable opponent from her own stable in the 3-year-old Zazu, winner of the Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes and Grade 2 Hollywood Oaks earlier this year. Third in the Kentucky Oaks in May, Zazu will face older fillies and mares for the first time Saturday.

Zazu was supplemented to the Hirsch for $3,000 on Wednesday. She is owned by Jerry and Ann Moss, who won the Hirsch from 2008-2010 with 2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta.

“It’s the time of year that you need to test the waters,” Sadler said. “That’s the great thing about Zazu, she’s got plenty of quality. We have two good shots in there.”

Trainer Bob Baffert starts two stakes winners – the multiple stakes winner Freedom Star and the stakes-placed Ellafitz, both of whom run near the pace.

The other three starters – St Trinians, Ultra Blend, and Washington Bridge – are capable of winning. St Trinians and Ultra Blend run best when allowed to make wide rallies. Washington Bridge is winless in her last six starts. She will wear blinkers Saturday and has worked well with them in recent weeks, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said.

St Trinians was fourth in the Vanity Handicap, finishing two lengths behind Blind Luck.

Ultra Blend finished second by a nose in the Grade 2 A Gleam Handicap over seven furlongs at Hollywood Park on July 16. She was promoted from second to first in the Grade 2 Milady Handicap over 1 1/16 miles at Hollywood Park in May after St Trinians was disqualified from first to fourth.

“The main thing for her is to get her outside in the lane,” trainer Art Sherman said.