02/02/2012 4:55PM

Tampa Bay: Endeavour represents Zagora's first step toward long-range goal

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Tom Keyser
Zagora, winner of the Grade 1 Diana at Saratoga, will begin her 2012 campaign in the Grade 3 Endeavor.

Zagora holds a special place in trainer Chad Brown’s heart, having provided him with the first Grade 1 win of his career when she upset the 2011 Diana at Saratoga. On Saturday, Brown hopes Zagora will take her first step towards possibly an even bigger milestone, a Breeders’ Cup victory, when she launches her 2012 campaign in the Grade 3, $150,000 Endeavour Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.

Zagora begins the new season the same way she started the last one, at Tampa Bay. Brown shipped Zagora to Tampa to finish second, a neck behind Denomination, 11 months ago in the Grade 3 Hillsborough. She followed that effort finishing second and third in a pair of Grade 2 events before running the race of her life to defeat Aruna by 1 1/2 lengths in the Diana.

Zagora made one more start at 4, finishing seventh as the tepid favorite in Woodbine’s Grade 2 Canadian on Sept. 18.

“I brought her to Canada after the Diana to see if she liked the course for the E.P. Taylor, but she just didn’t fire up there for whatever reason,” said Brown, who trains Zagora for Martin Schwartz. “It was a very uncharacteristic performance for her. Since I already had Stacelita for the Breeders’ Cup for Mr. Schwartz I decided to just stop and freshen her up a bit and focus on having an earlier start for 2012.”
Brown said he chose the Grade 3 Endeavour for Zagora’s return because of her fondness for the course.

“I thought her race in the Hillsborough was very good,” said Brown. “She showed she liked the course, and I believe that’s a big plus when bringing her back rather than run her at Gulfstream over a course I don’t know if she’ll handle. It’s a good spot to start back. I don’t have the screws tightened down like it was the Breeders’ Cup, but she’s come back great and she’s not a big horse, so she should be all right on Saturday.”

Ten fillies and mares are entered for the 1 1/8-mile Endeavour. In addition to Zagora, the field consists of Keertana, Abuela, Blue Angel Express, Crying Lightening, Dundalk Dust, Exclusive Love, Jenny’s So Great, Martita Sangrita, and Master Shade.

Keertana, who finished third for trainer Tom Proctor in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, figures to give Zagora her stiffest test if ready for her top effort off an eight-month layoff. Keertana has been idle since defeating males in the Grade 3 Louisville Handicap on May 28. She finished 1 1/2 lengths behind Zagora when third in the 2011 Hillsborough. Keertana would become racing’s newest millionaire if she finishes first or second in the Endeavour, entering the race with career earnings of more than $981,000 for owner-breeder Barbara Hunter.

Master Shade is an improving filly, having won three of her last five starts, including an overnight stakes at Aqueduct in her 2011 finale.
Exclusive Love was beaten only two lengths despite a wide trip in the Grade 3 Marshua’s River at Gulfstream on March 7, although trainer Mark Casse said he might pass the Endeavour and look for a softer spot if he thought the field was too tough.