07/06/2008 11:00PM

Ladies put on explosive show


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha may have cornered sex and style in most cities. But for class on the hoof, give me Zenyatta, Diamond Diva, Pure Clan, and Ventura any day of the week. Dressed to kill in nothing more than colored towels, low heels, and leather accessories, they put the sizzle in the fireworks of a $24.4 million parimutuel day last Saturday at Hollywood Park, in three races that won't soon be forgotten.

Perfection, usually unattainable, is still within Zenyatta's grasp. The common wisdom, though, after watching her defeat Tough Tiz's Sis by a half-length in the $300,000 Vanity Handicap, is that the big filly might be human after all, after winning her first five races without breaking a sweat.

Of course, ladies don't sweat. They perspire, and the perspiration was glistening on Zenyatta's dark brown flanks as she hip-hopped through the Vanity post parade. She was doing a couple of things she'd never done before, like carrying 124 pounds and racing beyond 1 1/16 miles. But these were minor inconveniences compared to the way the race unfolded.

The quick allowance race winner Silver Z and Joe Talamo seized the track from the outset, scampering into the quick first turn and then disappearing from view down the long backstretch. Far behind her, you could hear the other jockeys doing the math. "Do I go now? No. Now? No. Now?"

Mike Smith gave Zenyatta the green light a half-mile from the finish and began to ride. She is a miracle in flight, and the sight of her swooshing past sucked the joy right out of the race for Aaron Gryder, aboard Tough Tiz's Sis.

"I was a length or so in front of her and I wanted to stay there," Gryder said. "You don't want to have to catch Zenyatta. But when Mike moved, I just couldn't go with her."

In her previous two starts, Zenyatta hit the front at the furlong mark and extended her margin from there. She did it again in the Vanity, but this time, at that point, she already had put in her usual, powerful three-eighths of a mile run. Even the best horses are creatures of habit, so as far as Zenyatta was concerned, the game was over. Her ears wiggled, her stride softened, and Smith had to get busy with a left-handed stick to keep Tough Tiz's Sis at bay.

"They didn't get to the bottom of her, but they got to the bottom of me," said Smith, defending his filly. "She just pulled herself up."

Prodigies will do that sometimes. Things come so easily, the killer instinct must be taught. John Shirreffs, who trains Zenyatta for Ann and Jerry Moss, quickly spun the half-length win into a valuable learning experience.

"You want them to be challenged," Shirreffs said. "You don't want them to have it easy all the time, especially not when they'll be facing much tougher opposition as you go along."

Pure Clan, trained by Bob Holthus, has been anything but sheltered. She has been running against the roughest members of a tough 3-year-old filly division all year long, and the experience showed in the $750,000 American Oaks. Julien Leparoux spent most of the 1 1/4 miles glued to the inside rail, then held Pure Clan in check until a seam split between Missit and the tiring pacesetter Raw Silk with less than a furlong to run. The move made the difference in the three-quarters by which Pure Clan defeated French invader Satan's Circus.

"It was this big," said Leparoux, holding his hands the width of his narrow shoulders. "There was no hole. She took me there."

The good ones will do that, as well, taking you places others fear to tread. They can also drive you crazy with their eccentric personalities, which is why Garrett Gomez deserves no grief at all for losing the $750,000 CashCall Mile by a whisker aboard Ventura, even after his filly took a clear lead inside the final sixteenth of a mile.

With three wins in four American races, Ventura has become a star in the Bobby Frankel barn. But she also carries the tempestuous blood of Toussaud, through her sire Chester House, which provides Ventura with both great ability and the temperament of a spoiled rock star.

In the midst of a fast quarter, with the race all but won, Ventura's head popped up like a whack-a-mole.

"She was starting to stop fast," Gomez said, summoning a description that should stand for years. "I was afraid if I hit her she'd stop completely. You're almost afraid to move too much, because they're already telling you to leave 'em alone. But I still thought she would get there."

She didn't, but you'd hate to live on the difference. Diamond Diva, an Irish mare by Dansili, refused to go away. David Flores, aboard for trainer Jim Cassidy, felt his mare surge at the end just as Ventura tapped the brakes.

"Pulling up, we didn't say anything for a long time," Flores said. "Finally, I told Garrett congratulations. When I got back I saw the number five was on top. I knew that wasn't his number. But I'd forgotten what my number was. I looked down and - 'Hey, it's me!' "

Give that man a sparkler. And bring those fillies back for more.