03/17/2010 11:00PM

Santa Anita roundup

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WHO'S HOT - ZENYATTA

Zenyatta, still unbeaten after 15 starts, carried the week at Santa Anita. Her last-to-first victory in four months earlier.

The layoff was on the mind of jockey Mike Smith. "This was her first race back, and I wanted to make it as easy as possible," he said. Instead of rallying wide while conceding 11 to 16 pounds to her rivals, Smith elected to save ground on the far turn and into the stretch. He took the shortest way home.

"I cut some corners and gambled a bit, but I was confident at all times that if she needed to make room, she could," he said. "She's a bit of a bully. This was a great, great race for her, and it wasn't taxing at all. We got enough out of this race to move forward."

Among Zenyatta's amazing attributes is her acceleration. A deep closer, Zenyatta is huge and nimble. Smith guided her into contention at the top of the lane but faced a wall of horses in front of her.

At the top of the lane, track announcer Trevor Denman described the action: "She's pricking her ears looking for somewhere to run. . . . Where is Zenyatta gonna go? She's got nowhere to go. She's gonna sneak down on the rail now."

With the snap of a finger, Zenyatta darted inside, angled out two wide, shot past front-runner Dance to My Tune, and won geared down. Denman finished it off: "Zenyatta's playing with them. . . . Yet another unbelievable win. . . . If you don't have goosebumps right now, you don't like horse racing."

The win sets up Zenyatta for the Grade 1 Apple Blossom on April 9 at Oaklawn Park, where Arkansas racing fans will cheer the 6-year-old mare as she seeks a record-tying 16th straight win. And get this - trainer John Shirreffs and owners Jerry and Ann Moss said they believe Zenyatta is better on conventional dirt than she is on synthetic.

After the race, Jerry Moss summed up the sentiment: "Everybody really loves her. Everybody's so pleased to have her back and to root for her, and when she wins, she makes everybody happy. It's sort of like something going on inside each and every one of us. She's perfect."

The margin of Zenyatta's win was 1 1/4 lengths. She earned a 102 Beyer Figure, as if that matters. What matters is that Zenyatta is back, and as good as ever.

WHO'S HOT - OTHERS

In his first try around two turns, Sidney's Candy jumped into the Derby picture with a front-running win March 13 in at 1 1/16 miles. But the ridiculously slow pace complicates analysis. Sidney's Candy walked on the lead - he went the opening half in 48.55 and six furlongs in 1:13.53. Slow, slower. Handed the lead, Sidney's Candy took advantage of circumstances to win by a half-length and gallop out strongly past the finish. It is tough to jump on the Sidney's Candy bandwagon after the easy-trip win, but it also is unfair to knock him.

Interactif chased the slow San Felipe pace saving ground in second or third, narrowed the gap late, and missed by a half-length. Interactif undoubtedly benefited from the slow pace and may be as good as the runner-up finish makes him look. Caracortado was compromised by the slow pace. He raced in fourth position, but the front-runners ahead of him did not stop. The knock on Caracortado is that Interactif was pulling away from him late.

WHO'S NOT HOT

The strategy on San Felipe starter American Lion was bizarre. Adding blinkers, he was anchored behind the slow pace, got rank, pulled hard, and expended his energy fighting the rider. Although it appears American Lion may have been overrated all winter, he has little chance to develop into a top colt unless he is allowed to use his natural speed. American Lion finished fourth; Dave in Dixie, a closer, raced near the back and ran poorly in a race that set up wrong.

SANTA ANITA DERBY RANKINGS

1. Sidney's Candy, 2. Caracortado, 3. Alphie's Bet, 4. Interactif, 5. Setsuko, 6. Thomas Baines, 7. Make Music for Me, 8. Tiz Chrome, 9. Skipshot, 10. The Program

Is there anyone with speed other than Sidney's Candy? The local 3-year-old crop has been whittled to a precious few, and Sidney's Candy is the only one who runs up front. Two weeks out, Sidney's Candy appears to be the lone speed when he stretches to 1 1/8 miles in the Santa Anita Derby on April 3. Sidney's Candy jumps to the top of the Santa Anita Derby list.

Tiz Chrome is working well trying to rebound from a disappointing Feb. 13 comeback; locally based Make Music for Me is slated for the Blue Grass at Keeneland; Northern California-based Skipshot won his third straight over the weekend and seems qualified to take a shot at a Santa Anita Derby if he is supplemented. The rankings below require a qualifier. Only 1-6 are probable for the Santa Anita Derby; 7-10 are based on conjecture.

NOTABLE WINNERS

Vision in Gold, a 3-year-old maiden filly, stretched to a mile and easily won her second career start March 11. Ron Ellis trains the Medaglia d'Oro filly for Mace and Samantha Siegel.

"She's still learning," Ellis said. "She's a big filly - 17 hands."

Vision in Gold did not run particularly fast (72 Beyer), but she is getting better. When she starts next, Vision in Gold will run in a small field of allowance fillies. She is this week's "Most Likely Repeater."

Line of David is 2 for 2 since switching to turf; the 3-year-old crushed allowance foes March 11, winning a mile race by 4 1/2 lengths in a quick 1:34.41. John Sadler trains Line of David for owners Ike and Dawn Thrash. A son of Lion Heart, Line of David stamped himself as an up-and-comer in the local 3-year-old grass ranks.

Quisisana has won three in a row, and her March 10 allowance was her best yet. She rallied from third to win by a length with a career-best 97 Beyer, and she will be among the favorites April 4 in the Grade 3 Las Flores Handicap, a sprint for fillies and mares. Mike Puype trains Quisisana, who is 6 for 11.

Laserbeam Jackson ($157) was tough to find March 14 in race 7. A second-time starter in a $32,000 maiden-claiming sprint, he didn't offer much reason to support him second time out after a ninth-place debut at 74-1. Laserbeam Jackson improved slightly for his second start, winning by a neck with a 49 Beyer. Gary Stute trains, Christian Santiago Reyes rode the "Jackpot of the Week."

PRO-RIDE HANDICAPPING

Two-turn speed has been an asset on the main track. From March 4 through March 14, there were 10 races at 1 1/16 miles; every winner was positioned within 1 1/2 lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile. Six of the 10 led at every call.

Here's something to think about when Sidney's Candy stretches to nine furlongs next month. There have been seven races this meet at 1 1/8 miles on Pro-Ride - none was won by the pacesetter; six of the seven were won by a horse positioned four or more lengths off the pace after the opening half.

HORSES TO WATCH

Playing For Keeps

Trainer: Peter Eurton

Last race: March 10, 2nd

Finish: 3rd by 2 1/2

This homebred first-time starter broke dead last from the rail in maiden-claiming sprint, yet somehow rallied to third while racing only five furlongs. With a clean start and longer distance, this California-bred colt should win a maiden-claimer soon.

Rebecca

Trainer: Mike Machowsky

Last race: March 11, 5th

Finish: 2nd by 1/2

This well-regarded Event of the Year filly did nothing special in her debut vs. California-bred maidens, but she ran like she will move up a ton next time out. She pressed the pace, had the race won into the stretch, then tired. Expect improvement with a race under her belt.

Dan the Captain

Trainer: Jerry Hollendorfer

Last race: March 13, 3rd

Finish: 5th by 2 1/2

This older maiden first-time starter showed surprising speed but weakened through the lane in a race won by a horse who rallied from last to first. Maidens from this outfit generally improve with racing.

Kaysa Deeya

Trainer: John Sadler

Last race: March 13, 4th

Finish: 5th by 6 1/4

A first-time starter by low-percentage debut sire Rock Hard Ten, this distance-bred filly broke slow from the rail in a downhill sprint and went through the motions in an obvious prep race. She should improve at a longer distance.