03/05/2010 1:00AM

Zenyatta tunes up for Santa Margarita


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Zenyatta had just completed a six-furlong workout at Hollywood Park on Friday morning when trainer John Shirreffs looked at his stopwatch and grinned.

"I had her in 11 and change," he said. "I don't think I had it right. The poles are kind of tough."

As he said that, Shirreffs reached for a telephone to confer with Hollywood Park clocker Russ Hudak. It turns out that Shirreffs's watch was spot on. Zenyatta had an official time of six furlongs in 1:11.80, with a final quarter-mile in 23.60 seconds.

The workout left Shirreffs thrilled about Zenyatta's status as she nears her 2010 debut in the $250,000 Santa Margarita Handicap at Santa Anita on March 13. The Grade 1 Santa Margarita is a prep for the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park on April 9, and an expected showdown with 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra. If both start, the Apple Blossom will be worth $5 million.

Owned by Jerry and Ann Moss, Zenyatta, 6, has not started since winning the Breeders' Cup Classic here last November. She is unbeaten in 14 starts and was the champion older female of 2008 and 2009.

Friday, Zenyatta worked in company with stablemate El Vino, her sparring partner in recent workouts. El Vino started two lengths in front, with Zenyatta racing to the outside under regular jockey Mike Smith. Zenyatta was two lengths behind El Vino on the turn. In early stretch, Zenyatta had caught El Vino and scooted clear. She finished the workout five lengths in front.

"It always amazes me how good she looks, how she glides over the ground," Shirreffs said. "She's picture perfect."

Three minutes later, as Zenyatta walked off a largely deserted Hollywood Park main track, she was not breathing heavily. "You want to define a racehorse - there it is," Shirreffs said.

Zenyatta was expected to be retired after the Breeders' Cup, but she stayed in light training with Shirreffs in November and December. At the time, the Mosses said she would be sent to Kentucky early this year and was being kept in California because the weather was warmer. On Jan. 16, the Mosses announced that she would stay in training in 2010.

Shirreffs will have some handle on Rachel Alexandra when she makes her 2010 debut in the New Orleans Ladies stakes at Fair Grounds on March 13. Shirreffs will start Zardana in that race. Zardana won the Grade 2 Bayakoa Handicap in December for owner Arnold Zetcher.

"It was Mr. Zetcher who suggested it," Shirreffs said of starting Zardana. "I wasn't thinking of going that far. In the back of [Zetcher's] mind, he'd like to run in the Apple Blossom, too."