10/23/2008 11:00PM

Zenyatta the Cup's leading lady

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Alex Evers
Zenyatta is the horse to beat in the Ladies' Classic.

ARCADIA, Calif. - The Breeders' Cup is now a two-day event. Racing being the chivalrous sport that it is, when the 25th annual championships kick off Friday at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting, it will be ladies first.

Five of the Breeders' Cup's 14 races will be run on Friday, and each one is exclusively for female horses. While the Friday card may be viewed as an appetizer to Saturday's nine-race main course, it in fact will showcase one of the best races of the two-day festival, the $2 million Ladies' Classic, featuring the unbeaten Zenyatta and Ginger Punch, who won this race last year when it was known as the Distaff.

The renaming of the Distaff to the Ladies' Classic, and the packaging of all the female races on Friday, is part of a wider move by the Breeders' Cup to step up its marketing of the event. The Breeders' Cup has partnered with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, the well-known breast cancer charity, which will have fundraising booths at the track on Friday. Several popular female athletes - Candace Parker of the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks, Olympic volleyball gold medalist Misty May-Treanor, and Olympic softball gold medalists Crystal Bustos and Jennie Finch - are scheduled to attend the races and be honored.

First post Friday is early, at 11:05 a.m. Pacific time. The Ladies' Classic is the seventh race on a 10-race card, and has a scheduled post time of 3:15 p.m. The five Breeders' Cup races will be shown live by ESPN2 in a three-hour telecast beginning at 12:30 p.m. Pacific.

The Filly and Mare Sprint, the day's third race, is the first Breeders' Cup race, and features an attempt by Indian Blessing, last year's winner of the Juvenile Fillies, to become the first horse to win two different Breeders' Cup races.

Following the inaugural Juvenile Fillies Turf, an Eclipse Award will be on the line in the Juvenile Fillies when the West's Stardom Bound has a showdown with the East's Sky Diva.

The Filly and Mare Turf could mark the final career start for the accomplished Wait a While, 5, who two years ago was the nation's champion 3-year-old filly.

As good as those races are, the Ladies' Classic is better. Though it has just eight horses, the quality of the race is sensational. In addition to Ginger Punch, last year's champion older filly or mare, and Zenyatta, the pro-tem leader of the division this year, the field includes Cocoa Beach, who just upset Ginger Punch in the Beldame Stakes; Carriage Trail, who comes off a powerful victory in the Spinster Stakes; Hystericalady, second by a neck in last year's Distaff; and Music Note, the lone 3-year-old in the race, who is trying to increase her chances of being named her division's Eclipse Award winner.

"Cocoa Beach beat the champion last time, Music Note has been awesome, and Zenyatta has never been beaten," said Shug McGaughey, the trainer of Carriage Trail. "It's a damn good race."

Zenyatta is the one to beat in the 1 1/8-mile race. She assumed leadership of the division in April, when defeating Ginger Punch in the Apple Blossom Handicap, and has won four races since, all as the odds-on favorite, which she figures to be again on Friday. Zenyatta comes off a breathtaking victory over this track, the synthetic surface Pro-Ride, four weeks ago in the Lady's Secret.

"The last quarter of a mile, she was just galloping," her jockey, Mike Smith, said after the Lady's Secret.

But Zenyatta will start from the rail for the first time in her career, and will have to flee it at some point in order to showcase the mammoth stride that has propelled her to eight victories. Be assured several of the jockeys in the race will attempt to keep her and Smith locked in.

"She's a big filly with a big stride," said Zenyatta's trainer, John Shirreffs. "I love when she lengthens her stride.

Ginger Punch won last year's Distaff after being upset in the Beldame. "She rises to the occasion," said her trainer, Bobby Frankel. He believes Ginger Punch is better when she has a target at which to run, and that she was compromised last time by making the lead.

"There's no speed in the race, but Ginger Punch is not going to the lead," Frankel said. "I don't care how slow the pace is."

Cocoa Beach has won eight times in 10 starts, ranging from her native Chile to Dubai to New York, on both dirt and turf. Last Saturday at Santa Anita, she turned in a powerful work of 57.80 seconds for five furlongs.

"She seems to run well over anything," said Rick Mettee, the United States-based assistant to Cocoa Beach's trainer, Saeed bin Suroor. Although this will be her first race on a synthetic surface, "she trained well on the Tapeta in Dubai, and on Polytrack at the old Greentree training track at Saratoga," Mettee said.

Mettee and Suroor will also send out Music Note, who is battling Kentucky Oaks winner Proud Spell for the 3-year-old filly championship. Proud Spell is done for the year, so Music Note can enhance her credentials with a strong performance against her elders.

Hystericalady was second in last year's Distaff to Ginger Punch, and second last time out to Zenyatta in the Lady's Secret. Though she has won 11 of 22 starts, she is 0 for 5 on synthetic surfaces.

Carriage Trail is a synthetic specialist, with three wins in four starts on Polytrack at Keeneland.

The two longshots in the race are Bear Now, who most recently won the Kentucky Cup Distaff on Polytrack at Turfway Park, and Santa Teresita, who was third in the Lady's Secret in her last start.

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