07/04/2009 12:00AM

Tough assignment for Zensational


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - There is no modesty in trainer Bob Baffert's hopes for Zensational, the quick 3-year-old who makes his stakes debut in Sunday's $300,000 Triple Bend Handicap at Hollywood Park.

"I'm trying to develop him into the best sprinter in America," he said.

Zensational is being asked to accomplish a lot on Sunday. The Triple Bend is a Grade 1, features a field of 14, and will be Zensational's first start against older horses. Baffert is confident the colt is ready for such a test.

"The brilliance is there," he said. "It's trying to put it all together."

Zensational has won 2 of 4 starts. He was not cut out for the Triple Crown after losing an optional claimer for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita in March.

"He's changed so much since then - mentally, his body," Baffert said. "He's a big, strong horse."

Zensational rebounded to score a convincing win in an optional claimer over 6 1/2 furlongs here on May 29. He set a quick pace - 21.53 and 43.60 seconds - and finished in 1:14.42.

To win the Triple Bend, Zensationa must survive any speed duel that develops with the stakes winners Bamaha Breeze and Street Magician, and hold off a late threat from several stakes winners, including 2006 Triple Bend winner Siren Lure, the multiple stakes winner Rebellion, and Noble Court, who won the Grade 3 Ack Ack Handicap over 7 1/2 furlongs here on June 6.

Zensational and jockey Victor Espinoza almost certainly will not have an easy trip, and they are likely to face pressure throughout.

"It's a tall order, but I think he's up to it," Baffert said.

Bamaha Breeze and Street Magician won their last start - Bamaha Breeze in the El Segundo Stakes over five furlongs on turf here on May 21, and Street Magician in the Karl Boyes Memorial Stakes at Presque Isle Downs in Pennsylvania on June 7.

Noble Court and Monterey Jazz, a three-time graded stakes winner, have more established form in Southern California. Noble Court has won 6 of 11 starts and 3 stakes. In the Ack Ack, he was last of 10 on the backstretch. Trainer John Sadler said that Noble Court "doesn't have to be that far back."

Monterey Jazz, who was also entered for Saturday's American Handicap on turf, won the Grade 2 Strub Stakes in 2008.