06/12/2010 11:00PM

Zenyatta no sure thing this time

Tom Keyser
Zenyatta will try to extend her unbeaten streak to 17 races in Sunday's Vanity.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Zenyatta might be greatest mare who ever raced, she probably is the best horse in the country, and she certainly has captured the hearts of California fans.

Yet when the towering 6-year-old seeks a record 17th consecutive victory Sunday at Hollywood Park, there is one thing Zenyatta is not. She is not a cinch.

"It's never a slam dunk," trainer John Shirreffs said. "When the horses step in the gate, a lot of things can happen. In sports, there are endless possibilities."

Maybe so, but with Zenyatta, the outcome is always the same.

When she starts in the Grade 1 Vanity Handicap, Zenyatta is expected to do what she has done every start -- drop to the rear, explode late, and run past them all. Win again, and Zenyatta will overtake the 16-race win streaks by Cigar, Citation, and Mister Frisky.

Five others entered the 1 1/8-mile Vanity, including two with a fair shot to upset - Zardana, also trained by Shirreffs, and St Trinians.

"It's a legitimate Grade 1," Shirreffs said, pointing out that Zardana beat Rachel Alexandra earlier this year and St Trinians was the favorite against males in the Santa Anita Handicap. "Those are awfully nice horses."

Both are outsiders against Zenyatta, who is 1-5 on the track line. Despite the odds, trainer Mike Mitchell will concede nothing. He was aiming St Trinians to the Vanity even before she finished sixth as the favorite in the Santa Margarita Handicap.

"Zenyatta is the greatest mare I have seen in my lifetime, and if she beats me there is no shame in that," Mitchell said. "But my mare is sharp, and champions do get beat."

St Trinians, 7-2 second choice, is more than a flash in the pan. Imported from England, she won her first four U.S. starts, including the Grade 2 Santa Maria over Life Is Sweet in February. Mitchell ran St Trinians against males March 6 in the Big Cap to avoid Zenyatta one week later in the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Handicap.

The experiment fizzled; St Trinians finished sixth. Since then, she has worked extremely well, and the stable is on fire. Mitchell entered Friday having won with 11 of his last 18 starters.

"If you're going to run against Zenyatta, you want to do it the way things are going right now. Everything is clicking," Mitchell said.

St Trinians is 7 for 12 overall and carries nine pounds less than 129-pound highweight Zenyatta. Her new rider is Martin Garcia.

Mitchell and Garcia recognize St Trinians must open up on Zenyatta to win.

"At some point, Martin is going to say 'It's time to go.' " Mitchell said. "I don't want to be close to [Zenyatta] at the quarter pole."

Garcia galloped St Trinians 1 1/2 miles Friday morning at 5:30 before driving to Santa Anita.

The complexion of the Vanity was muddled until Shirreffs and owner Arnold Zetcher decided to keep Zardana home rather than ship to Belmont for the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps, to be run Saturday, after she worked five furlongs in 58.80 seconds last Sunday.

"The Ogden Phipps was the first option because then she would not have to run against Zenyatta," Shirreffs said. "But when Zardana worked so fast, and the shipping arrangements were going to put her on top of the race, we decided that would be too much."

The second option for Zardana was the Vanity, a race she will try to steal on the front tend.

"Zardana is a good addition to the race for Zenyatta," Shirreffs said. "Mr. Zetcher and I talked about that. Zardana would be the speed."

Zardana, 8 for 20, carried 2 pounds less than Rachel Alexandra when they met at Fair Grounds in March. With 118 on Sunday, Zardana gets an 11-pound break from Zenyatta. Victor Espinoza rides Zardana.

Three longshots are Miss Silver Brook (20-1), Cherryblossommiss (30-1), and Will O Way (30-1). But the star of the show is Zenyatta, owned by Jerry and Ann Moss and ridden by Mike Smith.

Shirreffs is comfortable with the condition of Zenyatta. She looked strong and happy galloping Friday morning.

"I think she's gotten easier to train," Shirreffs said. "She knows the routine better now."

Zenyatta, whose most recent start was April 9 in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park, has won $5,924,580 and will try to win the Vanity for a third straight year.