11/26/2009 12:00AM

Waiting 17 years for payback time

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - After 17 years and a flood of water under the bridge, Will de Burgh gets another shot at the Matriarch on Saturday at Hollywood Park, and wouldn't you know those Juddmonte colors are flapping in his face once again.

The 1992 running of the Matriarch, at nine furlongs instead of the current mile, was a Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf before there was a Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, with an Eclipse Award very much on the line. Flawlessly, the reigning queen, had won the Beverly Hills and the Ramona. Super Staff, Juddmonte's hope, had just beaten Flawlessly in the Las Palmas and the Yellow Ribbon, while Kostroma, carrying de Burgh's red cross, entered the race with wins in the Wilshire, the Santa Barbara (over Miss Alleged) and the Beverly D., in which she defeated Dance Smartly and an international cast.

Kostroma was also - and still is - the world record holder for 1 1/8 miles, which she reduced to 1:43.92 in winning the 1991 Las Palmas. However, as a stone-cold freak of nature, Kostroma had her share of quirks, and some days were better than others. She also preferred cover early to bring her closing kick to a slow boil, but the Matriarch came up relatively paceless and she found herself on a reluctant lead. Super Staff caught her deep in the stretch and then Flawlessly swept past them both to win her second Matriarch and another national title.

Tuscan Evening, de Burgh's filly, has no Flawlessly to contend with in the Matriarch this time around. But there is Juddmonte's mare Ventura, and no one can really recall what it looks like for her to run a bad race.

Still, Tuscan Evening's only flop this year was in the Mabee at Del Mar, when her heels were bothering her. She won a flashy Las Palmas of her own to close out Breeders' Cup Friday at Santa Anita and the Royal Heroine over the Matriarch's course and distance last July. Rafael Bejarano is 3 for 3 on the filly, and back again for more.

The progress of Tuscan Evening this year from a maiden win in January to serious contention against Ventura is a tribute to the patient handling of trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and his assistant Dan Ward. De Burgh, however, has not been entirely surprised.

"She was a legitimate Grade 1 horse when she arrived," de Burgh said. "Take a look at the Irish 1000 Guineas from a year ago and you'll see she was a very unlucky second. She was disqualified and placed fourth, but could easily have won the race had things gone her way."

At the time, Tuscan Evening was running in the name of de Burgh's brother Hubie de Burgh, and trained in County Cork by John Murphy.

"I rang my brother the night before the race," Will de Burgh said. "He told me that she'd better not win, because he'd bet in the pub the previous night that if she did win, he'd run around the track naked. And he would have, too, which made me think later that the stewards were predisposed to disqualifying her in any event just to prevent that from happening."

Tuscan Evening ran twice more in England and Ireland but finished up the track. De Burgh writes those races off to a bad foot and colic. Any lingering doubts that she was the real deal, though, were dispelled after she won five of her first six starts in California. Among those she defeated around two turns has been Gotta Have Her, runner-up against males in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint.

"If she runs well enough on Saturday the plan is to race her on next year," de Burgh added. "I've got fingers crossed that Tuscan Evening turns into a Kostroma."

Sad to see Lady's Secret erased

Ventura will be making her final start in the Matriarch after an admirable career during which she did everything but win a national championship. There will be a sentimental element to the betting, for those who would wish one final benediction for Ventura's late

trainer, Bobby Frankel. Then again, Ventura is probably the best horse in the race. Sentiment might have nothing to do with it.

Whether or not Ventura was named for the California coastal city, the Minnesota wrestler-turned-politician, or the Italian super model, she will be hard to forget. Likewise Zenyatta, who will be parading before the Hollywood Park crowd on Sunday afternoon.

There have been many fine mares honored by attaching their name to a major race, including Old Hat, Forward Gal, Tuzla, Silverbulletday, Sabin, The Very One, Davona Dale, Honey Fox, Azeri, Cicada, Next Move, La Prevoyante, La Troienne, Shuvee, Gallorette, Vagrancy, Gamely, All Along, Obeah, First Flight, A Gleam, Go for Wand, Honorable Miss, Personal Ensign, Pucker Up, Ruffian, Beldame, Miss Grillo, Tempted, Top Flight, Chilukki, Mrs. Revere, Gazelle, Demoiselle, Safely Kept, My Charmer, Dahlia, Miesque, Bayakoa, and Just a Game, just to name a few.

And now Zenyatta.

The good folks at Oak Tree have decided to replace the Lady's Secret Stakes next year with the Zenyatta Stakes. In strictly historical terms, this works, since two of Zenyatta's 14 victories without defeat came in the 2008 and 2009 runnings of the Lady's Secret.

The memory of Lady's Secret, though, deserves a better fate. The little gray dart was Horse of the Year in 1986, an honor which Zenyatta may deserve, but has yet to attain. To shove Lady's Secret aside in favor of even a figure as significant as Zenyatta seems shortsighted.

Had anyone asked, and no one ever does, my choice would have been for a Zenyatta Stakes in place of the Goodwood, Oak Tree's major prep for the Breeders' Cup Classic. No one really understands the nature of Oak Tree's connection to a British racecourse in West Sussex anyway, so why persist? And if anyone argues that a mare's name should only be attached to a mare's race, well, I have this videotape from the afternoon of Nov. 7 to show them.