04/04/2008 11:00PM

Zenyatta mows 'em down

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Zenyatta continued her quick ascent up the filly and mare ranks on Saturday, when she upset champion Ginger Punch in the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap to remain undefeated in four career starts. Brownie Points rallied for second, finishing 4 1/2 lengths behind the winner. It was another 3 1/2 lengths back in third to 2-5 favorite Ginger Punch.

Zenyatta ($5.60) broke last, and settled about 10 lengths behind Ginger Punch, who moved to the lead soon after the start. Ginger Punch set fractions of 23.47 seconds fort the opening quarter and 47.30 for the half-mile mark while being dogged by Lemon Drop Mom and Clever Strike.

Ginger Punch continued to lead through six furlongs in 1:11.61, as Zenyatta raced off the rail down the backside and quickened on the final turn. Through the stretch she gobbled up the leaders and was in hand under Mike Smith when crossing the wire in a time of 1:42.64.

"The start was no concern and going down the backside she was going okay," said Smith. "Heading into the final turn I wanted to see what I had underneath me and I urged her a little without much response. So, I asked her harder and she took off."

Ginger Punch, who broke from the rail, could not sustain her drive in the stretch.

"My filly was setting comfortable fractions," said Ramon Dominguez, who rode Ginger Punch. "She seemed to be doing it well within herself, but when I called on her at the quarter pole she just flattened out.”

Zenyatta races for Jerry and Ann Moss and is trained by John Shirreffs. Along with Smith, the connections also captured the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap here Saturday with Tiago.

The Apple Blossom was Zenyatta's first start on dirt, her first outside of California, and her first in a Grade 1. She began her career at Hollywood Park last November with a maiden win. Zenyatta next won a first-level allowance in December, then captured the Grade 2 El Encino at Santa Anita in January. She is a half-sister to multiple Grade 1 winner Balance.

Zenyatta earned $300,000 for the win in the Apple Blossom to increase her earnings to $444,000. She is a candidate for Hollywood Park’s series for fillies and mares, said Shirreffs.

The Apple Blossom and Oaklawn Handicap opened the 35th annual Racing Festival of the South, when at least one stakes a day is run over the final six dates of the meet at Oaklawn. The season concludes with the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 12.

* Oaklawn drew a meet-high crowd of 30,361 on Saturday. Handle on the track’s 11-race program from all sources was a meet-best $6,148,114. Of that amount, $1,894,181 was bet by the ontrack crowd.