12/03/2010 2:17PM

Zardana needs best effort to repeat in Bayakoa

Lynn Roberts
Zardana, defeating Rachel Alexandra at Fair Grounds in March, will attempt to win the Bayakoa Handicap for the second time on Sunday.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Zardana has sometimes been called “Little Z” around the John Shirreffs stable in the last year. When “Big Z” is Zenyatta, that’s hardly a knock on Zardana.

On her own, the 6-year-old Zardana has had an excellent career, winning 8 of 22 starts, five stakes, and $464,276. She won the Grade 2 Bayakoa Handicap at Hollywood Park in 2009 and will be out to defend her title in Sunday’s $150,000 running.

If Zardana can win the Bayakoa it will be her second important win of the year. Back in March, she won the New Orleans Ladies at Fair Grounds, upsetting 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, who was making her 2010 debut.

The Bayakoa will be run about an hour after a brief retirement ceremony for Zenyatta, who is being flown to Kentucky on Monday to begin life as a broodmare in 2011.

Zardana faced Zenyatta once earlier this year, finishing third behind the popular champion and St Trinians in the Grade 1 Vanity Handicap here in June.

“She ran very good in the Vanity behind Zenyatta and St Trinians,” Shirreffs said. “One filly was favored for the Big Cap and the other . . . ”

Shirreffs just started giggling, and never finished his thought.

Plagued by stifle problems after the Vanity, Zardana missed the Del Mar meeting and made one start in the fall, finishing ninth in the Grade 1 Spinster Stakes at Keeneland on Oct. 10.

“If she’d run big, we could have gone to the Breeders’ Cup,” Shirreffs said.

Instead, Zardana returned to Hollywood Park, the site of her most prestigious victory in last year’s Bayakoa. In recent weeks, she has worked quickly, including six furlongs in 1:12.20 on Monday, suggesting to Shirreffs and owner Arnold Zetcher that she is capable of a win on Sunday.

“She’s always run well on this track,” Shirreffs said. “When you go to Keeneland, you don’t know how they’ll handle the surface. It’s a little different than here.”

Zardana needs a top effort to win the Bayakoa, which drew a field of eight. She is one of six 2010 stakes winners in the field, along with It Tiz, Sister Dawn, Sweet August Moon, Washington Bridge, and Wynning Ride. The other two runners – Lady Railrider and Silver Swallow – are stakes-placed this season.

Sister Dawn and Washington Bridge won minor stakes in their last starts.