08/03/2009 11:00PM

Repeat could be tall order for Zappa

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Zappa won the 2008 Cougar II Handicap at Del Mar with farcical ease, leading throughout before pulling away by 6 1/4 lengths. Forget about that happening twice.

Zappa may win Wednesday's $150,000 Cougar II Handicap, but he will face a more difficult test from nine rivals.

"It's a stronger race than when I ran one-two last year," said Zappa's trainer John Sadler, who also sent out second-place finisher Tissy Fit. "We were ahead of the curve. I think people have caught up to the race."

Sadler has only one runner this year, and Zappa has not had the same season in 2009 as he did last year, when he won 3 of 12 starts and $302,612. This year, he is winless in six starts, including a third in the Grade 3 Round Table Handicap at 1 3/4 miles on turf at Hollywood Park.

"He'll be competitive," Sadler said. "We're in good shape right now. We're back to defend."

That may not be easy. Zappa is part of a field that includes several horses in better form. The Cougar II is a Win and You're In race, offering an automatic berth to the Breeders' Cup Marathon on Nov. 6.

Church Service was second in the Gallant Man Handicap at 1 5/8 miles on the main track at Hollywood Park on May 17. He was second in the Breeders' Cup Marathon at Santa Anita last fall.

Mr. Big is making his stakes debut after romping by 8 3/4 lengths in an allowance race going 1 1/16 miles at Hollywood Park on July 19. Gangbuster has strong Midwest form, having won the Fort Harrod Stakes at 1 5/8 miles at Keeneland in April and finishing second in the Polar Expedition Stakes at 1 3/4 miles at Arlington Park on June 27.

Bob Baffert starts Richard's Kid, who was a dull seventh in the Grade 1 Eddie Read on turf here on July 25, but won a stakes for trainer Richard Small in Maryland in February.

Quarter Moon, the winner of an optional claimer at 1 3/8 miles on turf in a 22-1 upset here on July 23, makes a quick turnaround.

"I'm just taking a shot," trainer Mel Stute said. "I think over a mile and a half the speed horses seem to have an edge. The farther he goes, he seems to run harder at the end."