10/08/2010 4:27PM

It's Tea Time may be good enough to beat older in Spinster

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Funny Moon, winning the Grade 2 Shuvee in May, makes just her second start on Polytrack in the Juddmonte Spinster.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Three-year-old fillies have a solid record versus older mares in Juddmonte Spinster Stakes history, having accounted for 21 of the 54 previous runnings. Rusty Arnold, with a filly named It’s Tea Time, is the only trainer with a 3-year-old in the 55th running Sunday.

“Only one dumb enough to do it, I guess,” joked Arnold.

Actually, in a Spinster about as wide-open as they get, It’s Tea Time might well become the 22nd 3-year-old to prevail. Ten of her elders will line up outside of her after she loads in the inside gate, and if the filly has come as far as Arnold believes, it could take a real runner to beat her. It’s Tea Time was a bang-up second here last spring in the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes in just her third lifetime start – and still her only career Polytrack attempt to date – and with four subsequent races under her belt, including a last-out romp in the Grade 3 Lake Placid at Saratoga, “I think I have a different horse than I did in April,” said Arnold.

The Grade 1, $500,000 Spinster, run at 1 1/8 miles on Polytrack, ends the nine-race, three-day FallStars Weekend series that annually opens the Keeneland fall meet. The Spinster goes as the ninth of 10 Sunday races, with one other FallStars event, the $100,000 Bourbon, directly preceding it.

The opposition for It’s Tea Time, as might be expected for a race of such stature, is collectively formidable, although fans could have a very difficult time pinning down a favorite. Funny Moon, Rinterval, and Hot Cha Cha all have their individual strengths and should take their share of wagering action, while another handful, including Zardana, Tizaqueena, Silver Union, and Acoma, also have plenty of merit.

Funny Moon is a Grade 1 winner, having captured the 2009 Coaching Club American Oaks, and all four of her starts this year at 4 have been good, most notably her victory in the Grade 2 Shuvee in May. Ten of Funny Moon’s 11 career races have been on dirt, with a runner-up finish in the Doubledogdare on the Polytrack here last spring marking the lone diversion.

Rinterval was scratched last week from the Lady’s Secret at Hollywood Park following a paddock incident, from which she escaped no worse for wear, according to trainer Eric Reed. Her claim to fame has become her neck defeat to the great Zenyatta in the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch at Del Mar in August.

Hot Cha Cha, winner of the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup here last fall and an earner of nearly $900,000, most of it on grass, began her career by competing mostly on Polytrack, including a romping win in the Bourbonette Oaks at Turfway Park in March 2009. Her locally based trainer, Phil Sims, is hoping that backlog of synthetic experience will prove valuable Saturday.

“She’s trained on the Poly since she was a 2-year-old, and she’s always seemed to take to it,” said Sims. “We really considered the First Lady,” a Grade 1, one-mile turf race here Saturday, “but the distance of the Spinster is why we went this way.”

As for some of the others, Zardana, trained by John Shirreffs, gained worldwide renown when defeating Rachel Alexandra in March, although her two efforts since have not been as good. Tizaqueena, an earner of more than $650,000 for Darley Stable, is a multiple graded winner with excellent tactical speed. Silver Union had an encouraging recent return at Saratoga and should be a strong pace factor under Ramon Dominguez. And Acoma is a classy performer with $700,000 in earnings for the mother-daughter tandem of Helen Groves and Helen Alexander.

Rounding out the cast are Milwaukee Appeal, Askbut I Won’ttell, and Striking Dancer.

The Spinster dates to 1956, when Doubledogdare, an eventual champion, prevailed as a 3-year-old. Other notable past winners include Gallant Bloom (1969), Susan’s Girl (1973-75), Paseana (1993), and Azeri (2004).


Live broadcasts of the Spinster and Bourbon are being carried on both ESPN2 and ESPN3, with TVG also providing extensive coverage throughout the card.


First post Sunday is 1:05 p.m. Eastern.


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