05/15/2009 12:00AM

Zenyatta fit and ready for Milady

Barbara D. Livingston
Zenyatta, the undefeated Eclipse Award winner, will make her first start of the year in Saturday's Grade 2 Milady Handicap.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The sun got the best of the morning clouds Friday at Hollywood Park at about the same time Zenyatta got the best of an overmatched workmate in a team drill that sets up the champion mare for her first start of the season on Saturday.

Zenyatta trains late at Hollywood, and it was already 9:30 when she and exercise rider Steve Willard reeled in an unraced maiden in the stretch of a six-furlong workout. The workmate for Zenyatta, Sabina Fay, was in reality nothing more than a target.

"I wasn't trying to catch her, but I caught her," Willard said. "I just eased up to her, then galloped on out."

Zenyatta broke off at the 5 1/2-furlong pole behind her stablemate, caught her passing the sixteenth pole, and rolled home another sixteenth past the finish to complete the six-furlong work in 1:12.60, breezing. Sabina Fay was clocked in 1:12.80.

"Perfect," trainer John Shirreffs said. And it was appropriate. Zenyatta has been perfect so far, winning all nine of her starts, including the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic. She will be favored to win the Grade 2 Milady Handicap on Saturday, her first start in seven months. No sweat.

"She was ready to run when she went to Louisville," Shirreffs said, referring to a fruitless trip early this month. Zenyatta was scheduled for a May 1 comeback at Churchill Downs, but was scratched due to track condition. Her workout Friday was her second since returning home, and Shirreffs said, "She's fit."

Zenyatta is owned by Jerry and Ann Moss, and her chief rival in the Milady might be another filly trained by Shirreffs. Life Is Sweet, winner of the Grade 1 Santa Margarita on March 14 for Pam and Marty Wygod, has aimed to the Milady for weeks.

Shirreffs was asked, is it possible Life Is Sweet might wait a week and run May 30 on turf in the Grade 1 Gamely? "The last time I talked to Marty, no," Shirreffs said. That conversation took place Thursday.

Life Is Sweet will work at Hollywood on Sunday, the same day weights for the Milady are due. The interesting new shooter to the division is Anabaa's Creation, who won her U.S. debut, a second-level allowance, by 2 3/4 lengths with a 96 Beyer Figure on April 2 at Santa Anita. Trainer Julio Canani said he would not commit her to the race until seeing the weights.

The Milady nominations list also includes Hot N' Dusty, Champagne Eyes, and Allicansayis Wow.

Hollywood seeks four-day weeks

Four-day race weeks at Hollywood Park are right around the corner, if the California Horse Racing Board approves the track's request to reduce live racing, Hollywood vice president and general manager Eual Wyatt confirmed on Friday. Wyatt said he expected a decision later that day.

"We have petitioned the board to reduce our live racing to four days a week," Wyatt said.

If the CHRB grants the request, Wyatt said the reduced racing week would begin as soon as next week.

A shrinking horse inventory in Southern California has been problematic for Hollywood, which entered the Friday card averaging just 7.55 starters per race. Hollywood was scheduled for a six-day racing week next week, Wednesday through Memorial Day Monday, followed by an already scheduled four-day week May 28-31.

Southern Fireball generates buzz

It is early to hype 2-year-olds, but a record-setting maiden win by Southern Fireball on Thursday stamped the Doug O'Neill trainee as the conditional division leader. A second-time starter by Southern Image, Southern Fireball was outrun for the lead, swallowed the pacesetter inside the eighth pole, and drew off by more than four lengths. Her final time for 4 1/2 furlongs was 50.67, bettering the previous track mark by 0.05 of a second.

O'Neill said Southern Fireball "acts like a router. When you work her out of the gate, she stands there like she's falling asleep, and then comes out of there like a rocket."

Rafael Bejarano rode Southern Fireball, and told O'Neill she was "still a little green." She was reluctant to switch leads, but once she did, she took off.

Southern Fireball was a buy-back at the Barretts March sale; the final bid was $75,000. O'Neill's brother, Dennis, purchased her privately after the sale for a group that includes Robert Master, Arthur Brooks and Mike Lewis. Southern Fireball is the first starter sired by Southern Image, a multiple Grade 1 winner.

She earned an 88 Beyer Figure. Her win was on the fifth anniversary of Southern Image's final victory, which came in the Grade 1 Pimlico Special on May 14, 2004. He lost his next by a nose, and then was retired with six wins from eight starts including the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes and Santa Anita Handicap.

The win by Southern Fireball was the fourth this meet by an O'Neill-trained 2-year-old. O'Neill said Southern Fireball would return June 10, along with debut winner Repo, in the $70,000 Cinderella Stakes.

Solid competition for Ventura

The mare Ventura will have her hands full May 25 when she faces a good field of males in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile. Leading the way are Grade 2 winner Whatsthescript, training super for his first start of the year, and Grade 1 winner Hyperbaric, who already has bounced back from a disappointing trip to Dubai.

The prospective Shoemaker field also includes Mr Napper Tandy, winner of the Grade 2 San Francisco Mile; Dixie Chatter, winner of the Grade 2 Arcadia; U S Ranger, third in the Grade 3 Inglewood; and Tiz West, a Grade 3 winner last summer against 3-year-olds.

Witty will likely try two turns

The unbeaten 3-year-old filly Witty will probably stretch out around two turns for her next start June 7 in the Hollywood Oaks, according to trainer Richard Mandella. The 1 1/16-mile Oaks would be the first start around two turns for Witty.

Mandella said there's a small chance Witty could run in the Acorn June 6 at Belmont instead.

Witty ran her record to 3 for 3 winning the Grade 3 Railbird on May 10.