01/25/2010 12:00AM

Santa Margarita may be Zenyatta's next


Zenyatta could make her 2010 debut in the $250,000 Santa Margarita Handicap at Santa Anita on March 13, trainer John Shirreffs said on Sunday.

Saturday, owners Jerry and Ann Moss announced that the undefeated Zenyatta would stay in training as a 6-year-old in 2010. Unraced since winning the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 7, Zenyatta was expected to be retired and bred until the Mosses reversed their decision. Speculation that she would stay in training had been fueled in recent weeks by three half-mile workouts.

Zenyatta was a finalist for the Eclipse Award for 2009 Horse of the Year, along with the star 3-year-old filly Rachel Alexandra. The award was scheduled to be presented in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Monday.

Acknowledging that no definite racing plans have been finalized, Shirreffs said the Grade 1 Santa Margarita would be an ideal prep for the $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., on April 3.

"The logical thing is the Santa Margarita, but I don't know," Shirreffs said. "That's talking off the top of my head. We'd like to go back to Oaklawn."

Zenyatta has raced primarily in California throughout her 14-race career. In her only start outside of California, she won the 2008 Apple Blossom Handicap, which remains her only start on a conventional dirt surface. Her starts in California have been on synthetic tracks.

Zenyatta has never run in the Santa Margarita, but has recorded five of her wins at Santa Anita, all in graded stakes.

Shirreffs did not mention any potential races for Zenyatta beyond early April, but the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs in early November is a long-term goal.

Sunday, Zenyatta breezed five furlongs in 1:01.40 at Hollywood Park under exercise rider Isabelle Bourez. It was her fourth workout since the Breeders' Cup Classic, and first over five furlongs.

Working alone, Zenyatta started slowly and had quickened by the end of the backstretch. Shirreffs timed Zenyatta through a half-mile in "50 and change" and galloped out six furlongs in "1:15 and change."

Shirreffs has a strong team of older mares. Life Is Sweet, winner of the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic here last November, is being pointed to the $250,000 Santa Maria Handicap, a Grade 2 over 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 13. She was scratched from the Grade 2 San Gorgonio Handicap on Jan. 2 after suffering stomach cramps on the morning of the race.

"It happened the morning of the race and what can you do?" Shirreffs said. "You don't want to send her over like that. It was bad timing."

Life Is Sweet has had two workouts since being scratched, including six furlongs in 1:12.60 on Saturday.

"She's on schedule," Shirreffs said.

The Santa Maria also is a likely early season goal for Zardana, who won the Grade 2 Bayakoa Handicap at Hollywood Park last month. Zardana breezed five furlongs in 1:01.80 on Sunday at Hollywood Park.

Next start for Gio Ponti up in air

Gio Ponti, second to Zenyatta in the BC Classic, worked five furlongs in 1:00.40 at Santa Anita on Sunday, preparing for a 2010 debut that trainer Christophe Clement has yet to finalize.

The $150,000 San Antonio Handicap over 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 7 or a race at Gulfstream Park such as the $500,000 Donn Handicap over 1 1/8 miles on dirt on Feb. 6 or the $150,000 Canadian Turf Stakes over a mile on Feb. 20, are being considered, Clement said. The Dubai World Cup on March 27 is a long-term goal.

"It was a good work for the horse," Clement said. "The San Antonio is a strong possibility."

A leading candidate for the Eclipse Award as outstanding older male and outstanding turf male of 2009, Gio Ponti has had three workouts this month in advance of his comeback.

"He had a good break and he looks good," Clement said. "It's a matter of getting him fitter."