06/27/2009 12:00AM

'Imposing' Zenyatta looks to stay perfect

Email
Barbara D. Livingston
Zenyatta will try to stay unbeaten in 11 starts in the Grade 1 Vanity at Hollywood Park on Saturday.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - From his vantage point aboard Allicansayis Wow in the Grade 2 Milady Handicap at Hollywood Park last month, jockey Joe Talamo had a first-hand view of the most fascinating sight in California racing this year. The champion female Zenyatta was cruising right by Talamo's filly.

"You look over and see this monster with her ears out," Talamo said.

The performance - the 2009 debut of the undefeated champion older female of 2008 - was a delight for Zenyatta's fans. For her rivals, the result was foreshadowing of what could be a long season in the division.

The next installment in the series is Saturday's $300,000 Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park. Zenyatta will attempt to extend her unbeaten streak to 11 while carrying top weight of 129 pounds, the highest impost of her career. She carried 126 pounds in the Milady.

Zenyatta will break from the gate in the Vanity at 5:30 p.m. Eastern (2:30 Pacific), 13 minutes after the nation's leading 3-year-old filly, Rachel Alexandra, runs in the Grade 1 Mother Goose at Belmont Park.

Despite her unbeaten record, which includes a win in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic at Santa Anita last October and a half-length win in the 2008 Vanity, Zenyatta has not scared away many rivals for Saturday's race over 1 1/8 miles - at least, not from the entries.

The Vanity drew a field of eight, although the longshots Hot n' Dusty and You Lift Me Up also were entered for Sunday's $150,000 Beverly Hills Handicap. Zenyatta is the only 2009 graded stakes winner in the field. Dawn After Dawn, who drew the rail, won two minor stakes on turf at Santa Anita earlier this year.

John Shirreffs, who trains Zenyatta for Jerry and Ann Moss, wants a big field. More starters would increase the likelihood of a fast pace, which would help the late-running Zenyatta.

"A larger field is better than a smaller field," Shirreffs said. "There will be a better pace and less thinking. I'd like them all to run. In a small field, she'll lay closer, and in a big field, she'll be farther back."

Shirreffs agrees with Talamo's observation, calling Zenyatta "an imposing individual."

To prepare Zenyatta for the Vanity, Shirreffs gave her a team workout with two stablemates over six furlongs on June 19. Ridden by regular rider Mike Smith, Zenyatta had a stablemate for a companion on the backstretch and another Shirreffs-trained runner who picked up the duty in the stretch. Zenyatta finished in 1:12.60, the fastest of nine works of the day.

"She's so consistent," Shirreffs said. "Her last work was really good. She didn't work in 1:11, but she worked with two horses. Mike said he shook the reins at her, and she accelerated so quickly. It's very difficult to work against one horse, let alone two."

The presence of Briecat and Forest Melody could lead to an early duel. Briecat won the Grade 2 Bayakoa Handicap over 1 1/16 miles here last fall, leading throughout. She has been unplaced in three subsequent stakes, including an eighth in the Redondo Beach Stakes on turf here June 6.

"We'll go to the front and try to improve our position," said Briecat's trainer, Vladimir Cerin. "She's probably the best she's ever been."

Forest Melody, who has never won a stakes, is making her first start since finishing sixth in the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Handicap at Santa Anita in March.

Realistically, Talamo's best chance for an upset by Allicansayis Wow is to have first jump on Zenyatta and hope that the champion has a bad day and cannot close the margin.

Trained by Patrick Biancone, Allicansayis Wow was stakes-placed on an all-weather track in Ireland last year and has made two starts in the United States, winning an optional claimer on April 23 despite nearly falling and finishing third to Zenyatta in the Milady.

Allicansayis Wow led at the eighth pole of the Milady, but was beaten 2 1/4 lengths.

"I think the only way to beat her is to get a running start," Talamo said. "If there is any time, now is our chance. [Allicansayis Wow] came out of the Milady great, and she's been training fantastic."

Biancone's opinion is more guarded.

"We'd be more happy if the big mare wasn't running," Biancone said. "There will be two races: One for the big mare and one for the others."