04/29/2009 11:00PM

Rival excited to take on champ

Barbara D. Livingston
Zenyatta, the undefeated Eclipse Award winner, schools in the paddock Wednesday at Churchill to prepare for her race against One Caroline.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Trainer Rusty Arnold could have cursed his bad luck when he learned that Zenyatta was coming to town to take on his One Caroline in Friday's $350,000 Louisville Distaff. Instead, Arnold took the opposite view of the pending confrontation between the two undefeated fillies in the Grade 2 Louisville Distaff.

"We're excited about the opportunity to run against a champion," said Arnold. "These are the kind of races you live for in our business. If you're scared to get beat, you're in the wrong business."

Zenyatta is the reigning divisional champion, having sewn up the Eclipse Award with her victory in the 2008 Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic at Santa Anita. That triumph was the ninth in as many starts for Zenyatta, a daughter of Street Cry who is trained by John Shirreffs.

One Caroline, like Zenyatta, is undefeated, having won all five of her starts, including both the Grade 3 Sabin and Grade 2 Rampart earlier this year at Gulfstream Park.

"It's been a long time since I can remember two horses coming into a race like this, undefeated this deep in their career," said Arnold. "The two horses are a combined 14 and 0, and I look at this as a wonderful opportunity for us."

One Caroline figures to have a tactical advantage over the late-running Zenyatta as the lone speed in the field for the 1 1/16-mile Distaff.

"I'd love to have the lead and I'd love to have it on our own and then see what happens," said Arnold. "And if Zenyatta runs over top of us, well, she's beaten everybody else so far."

The Louisville Distaff will be Zenyatta's first start since the Breeders' Cup, but Shirreffs said she couldn't be doing better coming into the race.

"She's training excellent," said Shirreffs. "We've done all we can do in the morning. Naturally with a horse that has her style you'd prefer to see speed to run with the speed in the race. The pace and the fact she's coming back in a Grade 2 off a layoff are the two big question marks we face."

Shirreffs had the option of staying on the West Coast and keeping Zenyatta on artificial surfaces, awaiting the Grade 2 Milady at Hollywood Park on May 23, but chose instead to come east and put her back on dirt for only the second time on Friday. In her only start on dirt, she won the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn by 4 1/2 lengths last April.

"She really seems to be peaking now, and rather than train her into the Milady we thought it was better to run her now," explained Shirreffs. "And I actually think she might be better on conventional dirt than synthetics, which is a scary thought. She ran one of her best races ever in the Apple Blossom."

Zenyatta will carry high weight of 124 pounds under the allowance conditions of the Louisville.

Although Zenyatta and One Caroline will be the center of attention in the Louisville Distaff, the field also includes Grade 1 winner Unbridled Belle, multiple graded-stakes winner Swift Temper, Grade 2 winner Miss Isella, and multiple graded-stakes-placed Unforgotten, along with Modification and French Kiss.

Unbridled Belle will be making her first start since finishing ninth in the Grade 1 Spinster last fall at Keeneland. A daughter of Broken Vow, Unbridled Belle won the Grade 1 Beldame at 3 and the Grade 3 Obeah for trainer Todd Pletcher last spring.