10/16/2008 12:00AM

Only seven step up to face Zenyatta


ARCADIA, Calif. - The smallest field among the 14 Breeders' Cup races is the Ladies' Classic, but the quality certainly trumps quantity. As Santa Anita regular Dick Van Patten would tell you, eight is enough.

Led by the unbeaten Zenyatta, a small but spectacular field was pre-entered in the $2 million Ladies' Classic, which will be the last of five Breeders' Cup races run on Oct. 24, the first of two days of Breeders' Cup races at Santa Anita. The field for the 1 1/8-mile race is so strong that Ginger Punch, who won the race last year when it was known as the Distaff, will be no better than a distant second choice. Ginger Punch has been the odds-on favorite in all seven of her starts this year.

Not this time. Zenyatta, who likely already has sewn up the Eclipse Award in this division, will be an overwheming favorite to record her ninth straight victory, including seven this year. She is coming off a victory over Santa Anita's Pro-Ride surface in last month's Lady's Secret Stakes, which marked her third Grade 1 win this year.

But with Ginger Punch, Hystericalady, Cocoa Beach, and the 3-year-old filly Music Note in the field, Zenyatta "still will have to come up with her best effort to win this race," Jerry Moss, who owns Zenyatta with his wife, Ann, said Thursday on a national teleconference.

There is a small but vocal contingent who believe a confluence of events could put Zenyatta in position to be named Horse of the Year, specifically should she win on Friday and Curlin falter the following day in the Classic. Taking nothing away from what Zenyatta has done, but Curlin's ambitious campaign this year - wins in the Dubai World Cup, Stephen Foster, and Woodward - makes him the unquestioned front-runner. Moss said he is "not really thinking about" any Horse of the Year implications.

It is a testament to Zenyatta's quality that Ginger Punch will not be favored for the first time this year. Ginger Punch also has won three Grade 1 races this year, but she lost her lone meeting against Zenyatta, in the Apple Blossom Handicap in April.

Ginger Punch has yet to race at Santa Anita. Her trainer, Bobby Frankel, is trying to cover all angles. Frankel is usually based at Hollywood Park, but he has moved his entire Southern California operation to Santa Anita through at least the Breeders' Cup.

"I just wanted to see what this track looks like," Frankel said Thursday morning while watching his 40 horses here, including Ginger Punch, train.

What does he think?

"I'd rather they have a dirt track," he said.

Hystericalady was second in the Lady's Secret. She has yet to win in five starts on a synthetic surface.

Neither Cocoa Beach nor Music Note has raced on a synthetic surface. Both fillies, owned by Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin Racing, arrived here earlier this week from New York. Cocoa Beach upset Ginger Punch in the Beldame Stakes last time out. Music Note owns victories in the Mother Goose, Coaching Club American Oaks, and Gazelle this year. Should she beat her elders, she could wrest the 3-year-old filly title from Proud Spell, the Kentucky Oaks winner.

The field for the Distaff, including jockeys, is Bear Now (Eurico Rosa Da Silva), Carriage Trail (Kent Desormeaux), Cocoa Beach (Ramon Dominguez), Ginger Punch (Rafael Bejarano), Hystericalady (Garrett Gomez), Music Note (Javier Castellano), Santa Teresita (Michael Baze), and Zenyatta (Mike Smith).