08/02/2009 11:00PM

Zenyatta signals she's ready to roll

Email
Benoit & Associates
Zenyatta, with Steve Willard riding, works five furlongs at Del Mar on Sunday morning in an easy minute flat.

DEL MAR, Calif. - The best filly in the country ran last Sunday in New Jersey. At the other end of the continent, the best mare in the country runs this Sunday.

One week after Rachel Alexandra's tour de force in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth, Zenyatta will put her unbeaten record on the line at Del Mar in the Grade 1, $300,000 Clement Hirsch Stakes, a race she won last year en route to an Eclipse Award as champion older filly or mare.

In an apparent indication of her readiness for this weekend's race, Zenyatta turned in a sensational workout on Sunday morning, effortlessly breezing five furlongs in 1:00 while outworking Green Cat, a stablemate in trainer John Shirreffs's barn. Of the 174 workouts on Del Mar's main track on Sunday morning, only two received breezing designations.

"She's sitting on go," said Steve Willard, the regular exercise rider for Zenyatta. "I've been doing this for 50 years, and I still get a kick out of it with a horse like her. She goes in a high cruising speed, at three-quarter throttle, but you know you can swallow the other horse whenever you want."

"Zenyatta looked really good," Shirreffs said. "With the race a week away, you don't want to do too much."

The Hirsch, at 1 1/16 miles on Polytrack, is expected to have a small field, in large part because the Hirsch is a stakes race instead of a handicap, and Zenyatta will carry 123 pounds and concede, at most, four pounds to her rivals. She carried 129 pounds when she won the Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park in her last start.

Her rivals could include Life Is Sweet, who also is trained by Shirreffs. But her status became clouded after a sizzling five-furlong work, in company, in 57.60 seconds on Sunday morning, which Shirreffs thought was too fast. The time equaled the fastest of 85 at the distance.

Zenyatta, owned by Jerry and Ann Moss, and Life Is Sweet, owned by Pam and Marty Wygod, ran against one another at Hollywood Park, with Zenyatta prevailing in the Milady Handicap. Since then, Life Is Sweet finished third against males in the Hollywood Gold Cup. Life Is Sweet was being pointed to the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap last Sunday against males, but was pulled from consideration because Shirreffs was not satisfied with the way she trained when she first got to Del Mar this summer.

Since then, though, she has done better, Shirreffs said. Asked if waiting a week from the Hirsch to go instead in the Grade 1, $350,000 John Mabee Stakes on turf on Aug. 16 was an option - being as Life Is Sweet has run well on turf in the past - Shirreffs said, "Mr. Wygod is not interested in running on the grass."

In addition to Zenyatta, those certain for the Hirsch are Anabaa's Creation, Champagne Eyes, Dawn Before Dawn, and Lethal Heat.

Anabaa's Creation worked five furlongs in 1:00.60 on Sunday morning for trainer Julio Canani.

Briecat, Life Is Sweet, and Tidal Dance are possible for the race.

"We're going to enter and take a look," Peter Eurton, the trainer of Tidal Dance, said Monday morning.

Moss hoping for match with Rachel

Though he doesn't know how or where it will happen, Jerry Moss is holding out hope that the race everyone wants to see, Rachel Alexandra vs. Zenyatta, will somehow come off. Moss believes it should take place at the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting in November, but Jess Jackson, the majority owner of Rachel Alexandra, has emphatically and repeatedly stated the Breeders' Cup is out because of Santa Anita's synthetic surface.

"The Breeders' Cup was created for this kind of circumstance," Moss said Monday on a national teleconference. "I'm not sure where else to have this meeting. The national press usually centers around the Triple Crown and the Breeders' Cup. I'm conditioned to respect the Breeders' Cup."

The Breeders' Cup is being run at Santa Anita for the second straight year.

"I didn't pick the place where the Breeders' Cup is run," Moss said. "We've run in the Breeders' Cup in all types of weather all over the place. If the Breeders' Cup was run in New York or Churchill Downs, we'd be all over the country."

Rosario, Sadler lead standings

Joel Rosario, the leading rider at Hollywood Park, is atop the jockeys' standings at Del Mar after two weeks of the meet. He has 15 victories, one more than Tyler Baze, who won the San Diego with Informed on Sunday. Victor Espinoza is next with 10 wins.

John Sadler is off to a fast start in pursuit of his second straight title at Del Mar. Sadler, last year's leading trainer, has won eight races from his first 38 starters. O'Neill is second with six wins, and both Jerry Hollendorfer and Peter Miller are next with five.

Two earn Futurity chances

Lions Story and Sterling Outlook won six-furlong maiden races on Saturday that left their respective trainers looking with anticipation toward the $300,000 Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 7.

Sterling Outlook, making the fourth start of his career, led throughout to win by 4 1/2 lengths in a quick 1:09.79 under jockey Tyler Baze.

"He's still green, but he's got a good mind," trainer Peter Miller said. "He's a tremendous mover and athlete. I've been expecting him to win the last three times."

Owned by Mace and Samantha Siegel, Sterling Outlook was purchased for $270,000 at the 2008 Keeneland September yearling sale. Baze was impressed by the colt's performance, and expects further improvement.

"He doesn't know what he's doing," Baze said. "He's like a big dummy."

Lions Story was timed in 1:10.78. He stalked the pace for the first half-mile before drawing off to win by 2o1/4 lengths.

"He was acting up a little bit in the paddock, but he settled down," trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said.

Lions Story was second in his debut at Hollywood Park on July 5. He has turned out to be a bargain, having been acquired for $50,000 at the Ocala Breeders' Sales February 2-year-olds in training sale.

Starlarks approaching next step

Starlarks, the upset winner of Saturday's Grade 2 San Clemente Handicap, could make her Grade 1 debut in the $350,000 Del Mar Oaks over 1 1/8 miles on turf on Aug. 22.

Trainer Paddy Gallagher acknowledged in the winner's circle that Starlarks will need to show further improvement to have a chance in that race.

"It would be quite a step up, but maybe she can do it," he said.

Starlarks won her first stakes in the San Clemente, which came four weeks after a fourth-place finish in the Flawlessly Stakes at Hollywood Park. Starlarks rallied wide on the final turn to win the one-mile San Clemente by a nose over Strawberry Tart.

The leading candidate for the Del Mar Oaks is Well Monied, who won the Grade 2 Honeymoon Handicap at Hollywood Park in May and was second in the Grade 1 American Oaks over 1 1/4 miles on turf there last month.

Trainer Howard Zucker kept her out of the San Clemente to stay on course for the Del Mar Oaks.

"I didn't see any reason to shorten up in distance," he said on Sunday morning.

Hameildaeme, third in the San Clemente, may start in the Del Mar Oaks. She delayed the start of the San Clemente for a few minutes when she became upset behind the stalls. She rallied wide between horses and was beaten 1 1/4 lengths.

Carlsbad, the 2-1 favorite in the San Clemente, faded to finish fifth after setting a fast pace. It was the first time in eight starts that Carlsbad had finished worse than second and was only the second loss of her career.

Trainer Jeff Mullins said Carlsbad would return to one-turn races, with the $200,000 Rancho Bernardo Handicap over 6 1/2 furlongs on Sept. 4 as a possibility.

Owners' group holding seminar

The Thoroughbred Owners of California is holding a seminar on owning horses in partnerships on Saturday. The seminars will feature commentary from owner Pablo Suarez, trainer Matt Chew, and equine attorney Gary Fenton.

The free seminar begins at 8:30 a.m. in the Veranda Cafe of the track's clubhouse. Further information and reservations are available at (858) 794-1018.

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen