09/06/2009 12:00AM

Zensational still looking for his best


DEL MAR, Calif. - Jockey Victor Espinoza has spent the last few weeks wondering what Zensational will be like when he gets good.

"I think there is some more to him than the way he's been racing," Espinoza said. "He hasn't gotten to the top yet. All the time, I'm impressed the way he improves with every race."

A quick review: Zensational has won Grade 1 races in his last two starts - the Triple Bend Handicap at Hollywood Park on July 5 and the Bing Crosby Stakes at Del Mar on Aug. 8. He will be heavily favored to win a third Grade 1 race in Sunday's $300,000 Pat O'Brien Stakes at Del Mar.

Of course, Espinoza knows how good Zensational is. He considers the 3-year-old to be the best sprinter he has ridden. It's just that for a young horse, with only two stakes appearances, Zensational has greater potential, Espinoza said.

Such an opinion does not bode well for the five horses that will oppose Zensational in the seven-furlong Pat O'Brien. The race is part of the Breeders' Cup Win and You're In program, offering an automatic berth to the BC Sprint. Such a distinction will mean something only if Zensational is beaten.

One of Espinoza's concerns is conserving some of Zensational's speed in a longer sprint.

"At seven-eighths, I have to be a little careful," Espinoza said.

Owned by Zayat Stables and trained by Bob Baffert, Zensational has won 4 of 6 starts. He has devastating early speed and the ability to carry that speed over six or seven furlongs. It is combination that can discourage the competition.

Trainer Ted H. West finished second to Zensational with Talkin to Mom Roo in the six-furlong Bing Crosby and does not expect to post an upset Sunday.

When asked whether he could beat Zensational, West said, "You can't."

"It's a shame there is not another horse with a ton of speed." he said. "We'll have to hope the seven furlongs catches up to him."

There are two threats from off the pace - Noble Court, third to Zensational in the Triple Bend, and Big Bad Leroybrown, who won an optional claimer here Aug. 20. Big Bad Leroybrown is making his first start in a Grade 1 stakes.

"I see him trailing the field early and blowing by everyone late," said Don Warren, who trains Big Bad Leroybrown. "I think he's as good as we've had him."