06/16/2011 2:31PM

Vanity lets the ladies take the stage


The 3-year-old boys were a particularly unruly bunch this year, rolling around week after week, messing up the carpet, knocking pictures off the wall. After a while it was tough to tell one from the other, so it was fitting the entire ordeal ended in a mud bath at Belmont last weekend with a Belmont Stakes won by a gelding who stayed away from the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.

The division gets a well-deserved rest now, in terms of competition and media glare. Fear not, though. These 3-year-olds didn’t have enough pull to leave a vacuum. If anything, their retreat to the wings will force attention back to the one glowingly consistent bunch of Thoroughbreds doing serious business from coast to coast this year − the older fillies and mares.

It is pretty much agreed that Havre de Grace has the East Coast talent over a barrel, although it’s tough to rule out Unrivaled Belle, who knows how to rise to an occasion. One of those occasions could be Saturday, when Unrivaled Belle meets Life At Ten in the Ogden Phipps at Belmont.

Out West the pot boils over. From the opening bell of 2011 the top races have been hard fought and well won. So thick is the quality of competition that at one time or another most of the players have spent time on the road, overlaying California form on the best the East and Midwest could offer.

On Saturday they will be home at Hollywood Park, when the Californians will tangle in the $250,000 Vanity Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on the semi-synthetic main track. For those who need a refresher course in the significance of the event, the Vanity was first run in 1940 and has been won by Hall of Famers Busher, Bewitch, Two Lea, Silver Spoon, Gamely, Princess Rooney, Bayakoa, Paseana, and Azeri.

Over the last three Vanity runnings, the winners would have been Tough Tiz’s Sis, Briecat, and St Trinians were it not for the presence of Zenyatta, Zenyatta, and Zenyatta. Now free from that towering presence − think U.S. Open without Tiger − the Vanity prize is there for the taking, with the field of six topped by Blind Luck, Switch, Miss Match, and St Trinians.

It can be argued that Switch and St Trinians gave Zenyatta two of her most challenging races while Queen Z reigned. That they are still going strong is a tribute to their handling. Blind Luck never met Zenyatta, but she has nothing to prove after finishing first, second, or third in all 19 of her starts dating back to the summer of 2009.

Still, in this world of ever-shifting loyalties, it has been intriguing to watch the high-stakes musical chairs played out among the jockeys who’ve been aboard the Vanity principals. A scorecard is definitely required.

Joel Rosario, who had ridden Blind Luck to thrilling victories in the 2010 Delaware Oaks and Alabama Stakes, chose to ride Harmonious instead of Blind Luck in the 2011 La Canada Stakes and was replaced by Rafael Bejarano, who had ridden Blind Luck to victories in the 2010 Kentucky Oaks and Fantasy Stakes. They both were beaten by Always a Princess.

Switch, who could have tried the La Canada, waited instead to run against St Trinians and Always a Princess in the Santa Margarita, but the race went to Miss Match, at 45-1, under Garrett Gomez.

For the subsequent Azeri Stakes at Oaklawn Park, Garrett Gomez landed on Blind Luck and finished second to Havre de Grace. Havre de Grace wheeled right back to beat Switch and Miss Match in the Apple Blossom, and Blind Luck skipped the Apple Blossom to run in the La Troienne at Churchill Downs, defeating the same Unrivaled Belle who had beaten Blind Luck in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic last November.

(deep breath)

Meanwhile, St Trinians reappeared in the Milady Handicap at Hollywood Park and won handily but was disqualified for drifting inward and causing interference in the final furlong. That cost Joe Talamo the mount on St Trinians, who will now be ridden by Rafael Bejarano. Talamo has landed on his feet, though, picking up the ride on Miss Match, who had been ridden by Gomez, who is staying with Blind Luck. As for Rosario, he sticks with Switch, which sounds funny if you think about it. But never mind.

“I don’t know a lot about the mare I ride, other than the fact she went by me pretty fast when I rode St Trinians in the Santa Margarita,” Talamo said of Miss Match, an Argentinean trained by Neil Drysdale.

“I’ll look at the video of her last four or five races,” Talamo said. “And I’m sure Neil will give me the insight on her I need.”

Talamo’s transgression aboard St Trinians in the Milady cost him a three-day suspension in addition to the mount, although he was able to win two “designated” stakes while serving the penalty and took the Whittingham Memorial last weekend aboard Acclamation. Talamo also has retained the good graces of Mike Mitchell, who trains St Trinians and continues to use Talamo on other horses in the barn.

“It was my fault,” Talamo said of the Milady. “When she got to the lead that day it felt like she was hanging a little bit. I wanted to put a little pressure on the horse inside me, and us both moving in cause that other horse to take up. Obviously, looking back, if I’d have stayed straight we would have won anyway.”

Now teamed with Miss Match, a mare who likes to come running late, the young rider was asked if he’d feel bad about hanging a close decision on St Trinians at the line Saturday.

“Probably,” Talamo said.

But probably not for long.