News and notes from around the Thoroughbred racing world, compiled by NTRA Communications.
ZENYATTA GOES FOR SWEET SIXTEEN
With a welcome befitting a president, the Queen of Racing returned to Hot Springs, Ark., Tuesday. Zenyatta, a two-time Eclipse winner for champion older-mare (2008-2009, will attempt to run her unbeaten streak to 16 in Friday’s $500,000, Grade 1, Apple Blossom Invitational Stakes at Oaklawn Park.
More than 100 fans turned out at Hot Springs Memorial Field with signs and cameras for a glimpse at the champion 6-year-old mare who is owned by music mogul Jerry Moss and his wife Ann. She was flying from Ontario airport in southern California for Oaklawn’s Racing Festival of the South.
“The last time a crowd like this turned out, it was for Air Force One,” said Oaklawn’s assistant general manager David Longinotti. “Bill Clinton came home one time and landed here. This crowd is about the same.”
Tuesday marked the return to Arkansas for Zenyatta. She won the 2008 Apple Blossom over then-reigning champion Ginger Punch in her only previous race on a conventional dirt racetrack. Her other 14 wins, including the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic last fall, have all come on synthetic track surfaces in California.
Zenyatta will face four rivals in the Apple Blossom. The full field for the Apple Blossom Invitational is: Be Fair, (jockey: Calvin Borel, morning line odds: 8-1); Taptam (Cliff Berry, 10-1); War Echo (Shaun Bridgmohan, 7-2); Zenyatta (Mike Smith, 3-5); and Just Jenda (Terry Thompson, 3-1).
“Someday I’m sure I will be honored to say I had a horse in a race against her,” said Just Jenda’s trainer, Cindy Jones, of Zenyatta. “She’s just incredible.”
NINE TO CONTEST ARKANSAS DERBY
A trio of hot Kentucky Derby prospects, including Chasing Dreams Racing 2008’s Noble’s Promise, WinStar Farm’s Super Saver and Robert Baker & William Mack’s Dublin, were among nine horses entered for Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby, to be run at 1 1/8 miles at Oaklawn Park.
WinStar Farm’s Super Saver, a speedy representative of the strong barn of trainer Todd Pletcher, drew the number one post position with jockey Calvin Borel in the irons. Morning line maker, Russ Ramstad, pegged the talented runner as the 9-5 favorite.
Trainer Kenny McPeek wasn’t the least bit disappointed when Bob Baffert elected to keep McPeek’s nemesis Lookin at Lucky in California for the Santa Anita Derby last weekend. Now Noble’s Promise has an excellent chance to register his first stakes score since the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland last fall. Jockey Robby Albarado will be back in the saddle of the son of Cuvee, who goes postward as the 2-1 second choice on the morning line.
Noble’s Promise had dropped three consecutive narrow decisions to Lookin at Lucky since the Keeneland win, the most recent being his second place finish to that one by a neck in the Rebel at Oaklawn on March 13. Noble’s Promise enters the Arkansas Derby with three wins out of seven starts with earnings of $793,500.
Since Saturday’s race provides a winner’s share of $600,000, horses like Super Saver can virtually assure themselves of a starting spot in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on Saturday, May 1, with a winning or even second place effort at Oaklawn.
Dublin represents Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, and Lukas is very high on his horse’s chances in the Arkansas Derby and beyond. Dublin followed up a second in the Southwest behind Conveyance with a strong third behind Lookin at Lucky and Noble’s Promise in the Rebel. The son of Afleet Alex appears to be getting better with distance and should be a serious factor on Saturday afternoon. Lukas will also send out Northern Giant in the race.
The complete field for the Arkansas Derby from the rail out is: Super Saver (jockey: Calvin Borel, morning line odds: 9-5); Dublin (Terry Thompson, 7-2); Noble’s Promise (Robby Albarado, 2-1); Northern Giant (Victor Espinoza, 8-1); Uh Oh Bango (Shaun Bridgmohan, 15-1); New Madrid (Abel Castellano, Jr., 20-1); Berberis (Aaron Gryder, 30-1); Line of David (Jon Court, 15-1); and Pulsion (Corey Nakatani, 15-1).
WIDE OPEN FIELD OF NINE TO SQUARE OFF IN SATURDAY’S TOYOTA BLUE GRASS STAKES
Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Pleasant Prince, runner-up by a nose in the Florida Derby and Padua Stables’ Odysseus, winner of the Tampa Bay Derby, headline a well-matched field of nine horses entered for Saturday’s Grade 1, $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.
The 1 1/8-mile Toyota Blue Grass is the final Grade 1 prep for the May 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands. A total of 19 horses that ran in the Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland went on to win the Kentucky Derby, with Street Sense in 2007 the most recent.
Pleasant Prince, who was just nailed on the wire in the Florida Derby by Ice Box in his most recent start on March 20, will be ridden again by Julien Leparoux, who has been aboard the colt in his past two starts. Pleasant Prince, will break from post six and is the lukewarm 3-1 favorite on handicapper Mike Battaglia’s morning line.
Odysseus, the 7-2 second choice on the morning line, will be making his Polytrack debut in the Toyota Blue Grass. Trained by Tom Albertrani, Odysseus has won three consecutive races highlighted by his nose victory in the Tampa Bay Derby in his most recent start on March 13.
Rajiv Maragh, who has ridden Odysseus in all four of his starts, has the mount Saturday and will break from post position one.
Also figuring to vie for favoritism are Wertheimer and Frere’s Interactif and Dogwood Stable’s Aikenite, both trained by Todd Pletcher. Both are listed at 4-1 on the morning line.
Interactif posted two turf wins at age two in the With Anticipation at Saratoga and the Bourbon at Keeneland. In his synthetic track debut, Interactif finished second in the San Felipe at Santa Anita on March 13.
Rafael Bejarano, who won the 2007 Toyota Blue Grass aboard Dominican, will ride Interactif, who will break from post position nine.
Pletcher, who saddled the Toyota Blue Grass winner in 2005 (Bandini) and 2008 (Monba), also sends out Aikenite. Garrett Gomez, who won the 2006 Toyota Blue Grass on Sinister Minister, has the riding assignment on Aikenite, who ran second in last fall’s Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. Third in the Fountain of Youth in his most recent start, Aikenite will break from post position eight.
The complete field for the Toyota Blue Grass from the rail out, is as follows: Odysseus, (jockey: Rajiv Maragh, morning line odds: 7-2); First Dude (Ramon Dominguez, 8-1); Stately Victor (Alan Garcia, 30-1); Make Music for Me (Mike Smith, 6-1); Codoy (John Velazquez, 30-1); Pleasant Prince (Julien Leparoux, 3-1); Paddy O’Prado (Kent Desormeaux, 10-1); Aikenite (Garrett Gomez, 4-1); and Interactif (Rafael Bejarano, 4-1). All starters will carry 123 pounds.
Horse Racing Radio Network (HRRN) will provide live coverage of the Toyota Blue Grass, plus three other stakes races on the undercard from 4-6 p.m. ET. The two-hour broadcast can be heard worldwide via free live streaming on the HRRN website at www.horseracingradio.net.