Updated on 01/07/2011 6:20PM

These ladies deserve a second look


ARCADIA, Calif. – Anyone paying the slightest bit of attention lately will concede that if the game is going to be saved – at least in terms of public interest in the sporting aspects – it is the fillies and mares who will do the saving.

The colts are hopeless, slaves year after year to the same old Kentucky Derby mantra, a zero sum enterprise that favors pomp over serious circumstance and tends to devour its young. Woe be to that poor animal who wins the Derby these days, for he is soon to be ancient history as a racehorse.

The older horses who survive to race at age 4 tend to be seen about as often as the dodo, or Garbo, unless the consumer is satisfied with the seasons of such recent champions as Ghostzapper (four starts), Saint Liam (five starts), Invasor (five U.S. starts), Curlin (five U.S. starts) and Blame, the likely older champ of 2010, who raced five times last year.

Ah, but les girls, both here and abroad. Reliable as the dawn.

The impact of Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta in the U.S. needs no further explanation, but the general outlines of their stories has been replicated around the world.

Goldikova has reigned in France for three solid years. Vodka was a household name in Japan where she was 2008 and 2009 Horse of the Year. Before them it was England’s international star Ouija Board, a winner in America and Hong Kong, and the Australian darling Makybe Diva, whose three victories in the Melbourne Cup gave her the keys to the kingdom.

It makes sense, therefore, to pay at least a whiff of attention to races like the Santa Ysabel Stakes, to be run early on the Sunday program at Santa Anita, right around kickoff for the Green Bay-Philadelphia game (go Pack!). There are only five 3-year-old fillies in the 1 1/16-mile event, and local division leader Turbulent Descent will be safely tucked away in Mike Puype’s barn. Still, something could emerge to tickle the fancy down the line in races like the Santa Anita Oaks, the Fantasy and the Kentucky Oaks.

Do not be distracted by the Santa Ysabel’s Grade 3 rating or its $100,000 purse. From tiny acorns, blah blah blah. Evening Jewel was seond in the race last year and all she did was win the Ashland and the Del Mar Oaks, while giving division leader Blind Luck a devil of a time. Champion Sweet Catomine won it in 2005, adding her name to a list that includes Surfside, Sharp Cat, Gorgeous and Ski Goggle.

May Day Rose, winner of the Sharp Cat Stakes, and Zazu, runner-up in the Mocassin, are the pair in the Santa Ysabel who have earned the longest looks. Both fillies were left behind by Turbulent Descent in the Hollywood Starlet, but that should not discourage them from establishing reputations of their own.

Into their company comes Bluegrass Chatter, a daughter of the young stallion Bluegrass Cat, that son of Storm Cat who finished second in the Derby, the Belmont and the Travers and still held his head high. She is out of a mare by Lost Soldier, who should ring a bell, since he gave the game Lost in the Fog.

Bluegrass Chatter was bred by a partnership that includes Will de Burgh, who has retained a part ownership along with trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. Later in the week, Hollendorfer will be polishing his acceptance speech for the exploits of Blind Luck, who figures to be the first champion of his productive career when the envelope is sliced open at the Eclipse Awards Dinner on Jan. 17 in Miami Beach.

“She worked seven-eighths this morning in 1:25.40, and galloped out a mile in 1:39 ,” Hollendorfer said Friday. “So we need just one little blow-out and we’ll be ready for her race next week.”

That will be the $150,000 El Encino Stakes for 4-year-olds on Jan. 16. Blind Luck has not started since finishing second to Unrivaled Belle in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic. For most horses, such a break would have fattened them up for the season ahead. Not the hard-twisted little Blind Luck.

“She’s never going to be a filly that carries a lot of weight,” Hollendorfer said, “but the reason we don’t worry about it is because her weight is constant. She doesn’t lose weight even when she travels, and acts the same no matter what we do.”

Hollendorfer’s search for a 3-year-old who could hold a candle to Blind Luck may begin with Bluegrass Chatter. She has a maiden win in three starts, her first time over a distance of ground. The trainer, one of only six men who have won 5,000 races, is sensibly skeptical.

“We didn’t have a spot to run her, so we supplemented her to this because we knew it would be a short field, and she has handled the surface at Santa Anita really well,” Hollendorfer said. “She was ready early as a 2-year-old, but then had a few little young horse things that needed some time before we could bring her back in the fall.

“In our business we’re always hoping for the next good horse to come along,” Hollendorfer added. “There are certain ones in the barn you have high hopes for, but you have to be ready for anything.”