10/01/2010 4:56PM

Switch to turf has made Unzip Me a star

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INGL EWOOD, Calif. − Unzip Me’s rise to the top of the turf female sprint division in California seemed like a remote prospect at this time last year.

A California-bred 4-year-old filly, she had a decent start to her career, winning two of her first five starts, all on synthetic surfaces. Then she was tried on turf late last year, and the focus of her career shifted. After finishing fifth in California Cup Distaff in her turf debut in October 2009, Unzip Me has not finished worse than third in nine subsequent turf starts, with seven wins, five in stakes.

The latest victory came in Thursday’s Grade 3, $100,000 Sen. Ken Maddy Handicap at Hollywood Park, her second consecutive graded stakes win. On Aug. 2, she won the Grade 3 Royal North Stakes at Woodbine.

“Once we got her on the turf, she really changed,” trainer Marty Jones said. “You could sure tell the difference.”

In the Maddy, Unzip Me took her customary position at the front of the field and held off a threat from Waveline, another California-bred, to win the six-furlong turf race by 1 1/2 lengths in 1:08.50. Unzip Me has won 9 of 15 starts and $504,513 for owner-breeders John Harris and Don Valpredo, who lead the partnership that owns her.

Unzip Me is by the Kentucky-based sire City Zip and is out of the California-bred Escape With Me, by Arazi. Unzip Me’s second dam is Soviet Problem, the California-bred Horse of the Year in 1994 and winner of 15 of 20 starts and $905,546 for Harris and Valpredo. A 10-time stakes winner, Soviet Problem finished second by a head to Cherokee Run in the 1994 Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs.

Escape With Me had one win in six starts. Unzip Me is her most successful foal. Valpredo said he thinks the Arazi side of her bloodlines are a plus.

“Arazi didn’t pan out, but the daughters of Arazi, which are not that many, are looking like a good group,” Valpredo said.

Escape With Me has a weanling colt by Aragorn and a 2-year-old Swiss Yodeler filly named Quick Break who will make her debut in early 2011, Harris said. Interestingly, Escape With Me was bred earlier this year to Desert Code, who won the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint as the highlight of his career.

For the 2012 breeding season, Valpredo said a decision has not been made on Escape With Me’s mating.

“We could go back to Kentucky,” he said.

Unzip Me handled the trip to Toronto for the Royal North Stakes without difficultly, winning that six-furlong race for fillies and mares by two lengths as the 7-10 favorite. Earlier this year, she won the Irish O’Brien Stakes and Grade 3 Las Cienegas Handicap at Santa Anita and the Great Lady M Stakes at Hollywood Park. Her only loss in seven starts this year was a third against males in the Robert Kerlan Handicap in July.

“It took the boys to beat her,” Valpredo said. “When she runs in her own group of fillies and mares, they don’t beat her.”

Unzip Me is being considered for the $500,000 Nearctic Stakes against males over six furlongs on turf at Woodbine on Oct. 16.

“Marty Jones plays it pretty close to the vest,” Valpredo said. “We discuss it, I tell him what to do and he does what he wants anyway.”

Jones would not commit to that plan Friday morning.

“We’ll have to see how she recovers,” Jones said. “I know it will be tough to beat the boys, but she deserves to run in those kind of races.”