03/15/2010 12:00AM

Shirreffs barn wins two, loses one


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Trainer John Shirreffs won the Kentucky Derby five years ago with Giacomo, but hardly anyone remembers. Shirreffs has been too busy cornering the older female division in the last two years.

Shirreffs, after all, is best known as the trainer of the undefeated Zenyatta as well as Zardana, who upset 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra in the New Orleans Ladies at Fair Grounds last Saturday.

Zenyatta extended her unbeaten streak to 15 races with a win in the $250,000 Santa Margarita Handicap at Santa Anita on Saturday. The Grade 1 Santa Margarita was Zenyatta's first start since a historic win in the Breeders' Cup Classic here last November and her prep race for the $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park on April 9.

A few minutes before Zenyatta's victory, Zardana won her second stakes in her last three starts in the New Orleans Ladies. Zardana, owned by Arnold Zetcher, may also start in the Apple Blossom.

Those wins made Shirreffs the toast of California racing on Sunday. He did not get far in the paddock or grandstand at Santa Anita without receiving congratulations from fellow trainers and fans.

At the barn on Sunday morning, the mood was light as the stable tried to go through a normal routine.

The only Shirreffs-trained filly not bound for Oaklawn Park is Life Is Sweet, who was retired on Saturday after experiencing muscle cramps after a workout. Life Is Sweet battled muscle cramps at times last year.

The winner of the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic at Santa Anita last November, Life Is Sweet was a candidate for the $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 27. But owner Marty Wygod elected to retire the 5-year-old mare. She will be sent to Kentucky and bred to Smart Strike, he said.

Life Is Sweet won 6 of 16 starts and $1,820,810. Last year, Life Is Sweet won 4 of 8 starts, including the Santa Margarita Handicap.

"She had a great campaign at Santa Anita that winter and a third in the Hollywood Gold Cup," Shirreffs said. "In the Breeders' Cup, she showed everyone what she is capable of."

Zenyatta, meanwhile, had a simple day at Hollywood Park on Sunday, being walked in the shed row. She is expected to return to racetrack training later this week. A day after the race, Shirreffs was still amazed at how jockey Mike Smith guided her through traffic in the final quarter-mile of the Santa Margarita before finishing 1 1/4 lengths in front of 51-1 Dance to My Tune.

Smith moved Zenyatta to the inside of Pretty Unusual before the eighth pole, closed ground along the rail, and then moved Zenyatta to the outside of Dance to My Tune before taking the lead in the final sixteenth.

Smith said that he was only steering Zenyatta through the stretch and never used his whip.

The style of the win thrilled an ontrack crowd of 20,315, who helped to knock Zenyatta down to odds of 1-5. Their reaction to Zenyatta's left owner Jerry Moss humbled.

"Maybe she's the idea of perfect that we all strive for," he said.

Big day helps track reduce deficits

Zenyatta's appearance more than doubled the attendance from the corresponding day at the 2008-09 meeting and helped erase some of the losses in ontrack business the meeting has suffered, according to track president Ron Charles.

Charles said that through Saturday ontrack attendance was down 4 percent and ontrack handle was down 13 percent from last year. He said part of the losses can be attributed to the five days that have been canceled at the meeting because of insufficient drainage of the Pro-Ride synthetic track.

Charles said the track has a chance to make up some of the deficit before the meeting ends on April 18.

"Hopefully, the weather stays good," Charles said. "So much will depend on field sizes."

Through Saturday, fields have averaged 8 runners per race compared with 8.23 runners per race at the 2008-09 meeting.

With Zenyatta starting in the Santa Margarita, the track sent out a direct mailer promoting the race and launched an advertising campaign on television in the days before the race.

"It was an exciting day and great to see so many racing fans and Zenyatta fans," Charles said. "She's the first horse in a long time that has acquired a following and it's great to see. The cheers just kept coming."

Borel receives Woolf Award

Calvin Borel, the winner of two Kentucky Derbies and the regular rider of Rachel Alexandra, was honored with the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in a winner's circle presentation on Sunday.

Borel, currently based at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, flew to Santa Anita from the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, where he finished second aboard Rachel Alexandra on Saturday.

Borel was surrounded by several past winners and members of the jockey colony at Santa Anita during the ceremony. The award honors jockeys for their success on the track and personal character.

In brief comments, Borel thanked his friends and family, and remembered his late parents. He later described being honored with the Woolf Award as "unbelievable."

"It's been a long ride and I knew I'd get there," he said. "For the young guys starting out, I would say, If you have a dream, you can get there."

* Jockey Tyler Baze, currently seventh in the standings, has hired Vic Stauffer to be his agent. Last week, Ebanks left the employ of Baze and Stauffer stopped working for Joel Rosario.