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Santa Margarita no dream matchup
ARCADIA, Calif. - The big mare is back, and everyone is looking forward to seeing Zenyatta in action Saturday at Santa Anita.
Watching her train enthusiastically this week at Hollywood Park, it was clear that Zenyatta loves what she is doing. At age 6, she remains a picture of health and will be fun to watch this spring when she takes her show on the road.
But first things first, and Zenyatta's comeback Saturday in the Grade 1 Santa Margarita is not as warm and fuzzy as it could be.
First, Santa Anita blundered by inviting an imposter to the Zenyatta party. The Santa Margarita is an "invitational," yet a 2-for-46 California-bred allowance mare somehow made it into the field. Her name is Powerofvoodoo, and she has no chance.
Secondly, Powerofvoodoo has a 16-year-old rookie jockey who has no business riding in a Grade 1. Not yet, anyway. As of Thursday, Tyler Kaplan had ridden in all of one race.
Is there no respect? It is a fair question when an allowance-class longshot and a green apprentice are in the Santa Margarita, a race with major historical relevance.
For Zenyatta, it probably will not matter. But the mere presence of a no-chance runner cheapens the Santa Margarita. And allowing an inexperienced teenager to ride in the race creates an unnecessary risk. It should never have happened.
Mike Harlow, Santa Anita's director of racing, explained that Powerofvoodoo was invited to ensure that Zenyatta would have someone - anyone - to run against. "We have to be cognizant of putting a field together," said Harlow, noting that when the invitations were issued, "we didn't know how many would run against her."
It turns out, eight others entered.
"We didn't know if we were going to get four or five," Harlow added. "It's one of the things you have to resort to sometimes," he said of inviting an unqualified horse into a major race.
Barry Abrams trains Powerofvoodoo, and Friday morning he said the overmatched, outclassed, no-chance Powerofvoodoo probably would not run against Zenyatta.
If she's the fifth horse, she'll run," Abrams said. "I'm doing it from a business angle. She can earn $5,000" - the fifth-place purse "for a workout. But there is a 99 percent chance she will scratch."
Abrams disagrees that allowing an inexperienced apprentice in the race creates a threat. He did it because Kaplan can do the weight, 108 pounds. "If she was a speed horse, I wouldn't consider it," Abrams said. "But she's going to be last the whole way. She's not going to get hurt, and she's not going to hurt anyone else. That is the bottom line."
While the bug boy and the no-shot mare probably will be non-factors, there remains an interesting distinction between the red-carpet treatment for Rachel Alexandra at Fair Grounds, and the hoops Zenyatta will jump through at Santa Anita.
Fair Grounds manufactured a $200,000 race specifically for Rachel Alexandra. Good for them. There is nothing wrong with a little bit of "home cooking." The conditions of the New Orleans Ladies are such that Rachel Alexandra will carry just two pounds more than her nearest rival.
Meanwhile in California, because the race is a handicap, Zenyatta will pack 127 pounds, 12 more than her nearest rival. No one is calling the impost "unfair," because it is not. It does, however, create an interesting contrast between the favorable allowance conditions under which Rachel Alexandra returns, and the handicap treatment for Zenyatta.
Win or lose, in Arcadia, Calif.,and in New Orleans, La., the 2010 racing season is about to get a lot more interesting.
Meanwhile, the handicapping notebook is full again, with stuff like this . . .
* Santa Anita hired a new linemaker this winter. Jon White has done a terrific, accurate job his first season. But he overdid it on Zenyatta, opening her at the unusually low price of 1-9. A starting price of 1-5 would have raised fewer eyebrows.
* All but one starter from the 2009 Woodward Stakes has run back, and their combined record since then is 1 for 15. None of the Woodward starters won their first start back, a streak that Woodward winner Rachel Alexandra figures to end on Saturday at Fair Grounds.
* As for the Breeders' Cup Classic field that Zenyatta beat, their combined record since then is 1 for 4. The sixth-place BC finisher, Richard's Kid, won the Grade 2 San Antonio early this winter.
* It is always fun to watch the Zenyatta 14-race DVD produced by TVG, and relive the excitement of longshot bets. Whenever Zenyatta ran, odds always were skewed on others - 22-1 Anabaa's Creation at Del Mar, 29-1 Model at Del Mar, and 7-1 Tough Tiz's Sis at Hollywood Park. Second, second, and second. It reminds something former newspaper handicapper Mike Superstein once said: "I may be losing, but I am losing with value."
* For the record, the Santa Anita press box handicapping corps knocked off the Santa Anita racing office again, as expected, in the Big Cap Day handicapping contest. It happens just about every year, except for 2009 when the racing office pulled off a shocker.
* Lookin At Lucky might win the Rebel Stakes on Saturday at Oaklawn Park for the simple reason he is a good horse. The colt's slow works, however, are atypical by a trainer whose horses usually light up the track.
"I'm trying to keep him nice and relaxed," his trainer, Bob Baffert, said.
One might conclude Lookin At Lucky has a right to come up short Saturday.
* Who said you cannot win by betting hunches? Jerry Moss, owner of Zenyatta and Neko Bay, arrived at Santa Anita on Big Cap Day one week ago in time to bet the sixth race. Moss, co-founder of A&M Records, took one look at the program, found the perfect name, and wagered accordingly. Make Music for Me rolled home at $15.40. Easy game.
* Jockey Victor Espinoza will do himself a favor when he removes the chip on his shoulder after a horse he used to ride won the Santa Anita Handicap. Espinoza turned an ice-cold shoulder to the connections of Misremembered when they said hello to Espinoza later. Martin Garcia rode Misremembered to victory in the Big Cap. Espinoza may someday regain the mount, when he learns to return a simple greeting.