News and notes from around the Thoroughbred racing world, compiled by NTRA Communications.
ZENYATTA GOING FOR 19TH CONSECUTIVE WIN SATURDAY IN LADY’S SECRET
Unbeaten superstar Zenyatta will try to extend her unblemished record to 19 wins without a loss when she faces five foes Saturday in the Grade I, $250,000 Lady’s Secret Stakes, Presented by TVG at Oak Tree at Hollywood Park. The Lady’s Secret, one of four Grade I stakes events at Oak Tree at Hollywood Park Saturday, will be the final race of Zenyatta’s career in California. She is expected to make her final career start in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 6 at Churchill Downs in Louisville.
A 6-year-old Street Cry mare, Zenyatta earlier this year became the first horse to win the Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park and the Clement Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar three straight years. She also seeks a record three-peat in the Lady’s Secret, a race she won the previous two years at Santa Anita. The only other horses to win the race twice were Hollywood Wildcat in 1993-94 and Healthy Addiction in 2005-06.
Zenyatta, with career earnings of $6,254,580, also seeks to become the all-time leading female earner. The $150,000 first prize in the test for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on Cushion Track would enable her to pass leader Ouija Board, who earned $6,312,552 from 2003-06. As usual, Mike Smith will have the riding assignment aboard Zenyatta for trainer John Shirreffs.
Lady’s Secret rivals do not plan to make the race a walkover for the two-time Eclipse champion mare. Trainer Eric Reed shipped in a pair from Kentucky for the race — Rinterval and Satans Quick Chick.
Rinterval, a 5-year-old mare, set most of the pace in the Clement Hirsch and finished a game second, beaten only by a neck by Zenyatta. Satans Quick Chick, a stretch-running 4-year-old filly, will make her first start since January. Both are owned by Jerry Jamgotchian.
Trainer Bob Baffert entered Moon de French, a 5-year-old mare coming off a wire-to-wire victory at one mile in the Adoration Stakes at Del Mar on September 5. The Hall of Fame trainer conceded that he faced a daunting challenge.
“Zenyatta is like a guided missile,” said Baffert of the mare’s devouring stretch kick. “She’s got radar and locks down on the leader.”
Trainer John Sadler, who conditioned Healthy Addiction, entered Switch, a 3-year-old, who upset prohibitive favorite Blind Luck in the Hollywood Oaks in June. Switch will carry 120 pounds, the others 123 each.
Emmy Darling, claimed for $62,500 out of a mile victory at Del Mar on August 19, rounds out the field.
The Lady’s Secret, along with the Norfolk Stakes and the Yellow Ribbon Stakes, will be televised live on ESPN Classic from 6:30-8:00 p.m. (ET) on Saturday. ESPN will also show the Lady’s Secret live in between two scheduled college football telecasts. Post time for the Lady’s Secret is slated for 7:15 p.m. (ET)
The annual Oak Tree Racing Association meet, which opens tonight, will be run at Hollywood Park for the first time in the Association’s 41-year history.
BLAME TOPS CONTENTIOUS FIELD IN JOCKEY CLUB GOLD CUP AT BELMONT
Since it was first run in 1919, Belmont Park’s Grade I, $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational has not only brought together some of history’s finest Thoroughbreds but served as a major stepping stone to year-end honors for many.
Over the last decade alone, 2009 3-year-old champion Summer Bird, 2007-08 Horse of the Year Curlin, 2006 3-year-old champion Bernardini and 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft have counted the Jockey Club Gold Cup among the most prestigious of their accomplishments, and the connections of morning-line favorite Blame are hoping a victory in Saturday’s 1 ¼ mile race will grace their colt’s resume as well.
Saturday’s Jockey Club Gold Cup card at Belmont also boasts the Grade I, $350,000 Beldame Invitational; Grade I, $350,000 Vosburgh Invitational; the Grade I, $500,000 Flower Bowl Invitational; and the Grade I, $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational.
Blame, a 4-year-old son of Arch, most recently headed Quality Road to win the Whitney at Saratoga Race Course on August 7, and he heads into the Jockey Club Gold Cup riding a five-race win streak that began last October with the Fayette and continued with the Clark in November, the William D. Schaefer in May and the Stephen Foster in June.
Owned by Adele Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm, Blame has compiled a record of 8-1-2 from 11 starts, and will be making only his fourth start of the year in a carefully managed campaign that will likely culminate in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on November 6.
“I am really pleased with the way Blame is coming into the race,” said trainer Al Stall, Jr., who has been prepping the colt at Keeneland. “He’s carrying more weight, and I couldn’t be happier with the way he’s been training. This is a tough race, and I’m really worried about everybody, but I wouldn’t trade places with anybody.
Garrett Gomez, who has been aboard for Blame’s last three victories, returns to ride the 8-5 morning-line favorite from post position 2.
Rail Trip, 1-1-1 from three starts at 1 ¼ miles, will be running for the first time on conventional dirt as he makes his first start for trainer Rick Dutrow, Jr. The 2009 Hollywood Gold Cup hero was most recently second in the 2010 edition of that race as the 2-5 favorite in July, after which he was transferred to New York by Mace and Samantha Siegel of Jay Em Ess Stable.
“The clock starts ticking now,” said Dutrow of the 5-year-old gelded son of Jump Start, who has never been worse than third in 12 lifetime starts. “He’s been training well at Saratoga, and at Aqueduct, for the past month and we’re hoping he runs his race. He hasn’t been getting tired with those fast works, and we’re happy with where we are with him.”
Rail Trip will leave from post position 8 under Cornelio Velasquez as the 5-2 second choice.
While Blame and Rail Trip will be making their Belmont debuts in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Turtle Bird Stable’s Haynesfield carries an enviable 4-1-0 record from five starts at the Elmont, N.Y., track into the race. Winner of the Suburban Handicap at Belmont on July 3, the Speightstown colt most recently finished fourth behind Blame in the Whitney after breaking through the gate. Haynesfield drew post position 6 and was listed at 8-1 on the morning line. Ramon Dominguez will ride.
Hall of Famer Nick Zito, who saddled 3-year-old Albert the Great to win the 2000 Jockey Club Gold Cup, will be sending out the lone 3-year-old in this year’s field – Fly Down, who gets a four-pound break in the weights at 122 pounds. Jose Lezcano will ride Fly Down, the 9-2 third choice on the morning line, from the rail.
Rounding out the Gold Cup field are Tranquil Manner, Mythical Power, Dry Martini and Hold Me Back.
One of the most intriguing races on the Saturday undercard at Belmont is the Beldame Invitational for fillies and mares with designs on the November 5 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic. Rachel Alexandra, the 2009 Horse of the Year, was expected to compete in the Beldame prior to the sudden announcement of her retirement on Tuesday. Topping the 1 1/8-mile dirt event instead are two 4-year-old fillies who handed Rachel Alexandra surprising defeats earlier in the year. Unrivaled Belle took the measure of Rachel Alexandra on April 30 at Churchill Downs in the La Troienne Stakes, and Persistently did the same in last month’s Grade I Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga.
SANTA ANITA TO RETURN TO NATURAL DIRT SURFACE
Santa Anita officials have announced that construction will begin on a new, all-natural dirt main track on October 11. Crews will begin removing the existing synthetic material at that time, and it is estimated the track will be ready for training by December 6, with Santa Anita’s traditional winter/spring meeting set to begin on December 26.
“Our Chairman, Frank Stronach, has made it abundantly clear that Santa Anita will install a state-of-the-art, all-natural dirt surface, that our best customers feel most comfortable with and that a majority of our owners, jockeys and horsemen feel more comfortable competing on,” said Santa Anita President George Haines.
“Whenever we build a track anywhere, our main concern is that horse and rider are safe,” said Ted Malloy, who will oversee the installation project. “This surface will be similar to those at Gulfstream, Churchill Downs and to the Oklahoma track at Saratoga. The biggest challenge we’re facing is finding the right mix of soils.”
REGISTRATION OPEN FOR SATURDAY’S FREE “TVG ONLINE CHALLENGE
Signups are being accepted for the “TVG Online Challenge,” a free, online handicapping tournament that will take place this Saturday, October 2. The top two finishers will receive a guaranteed berth in the $1.1 million (estimated) Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) on January 28-29, 2011 in Las Vegas. The two winners will also receive roundtrip air travel and hotel accommodations at the Red Rock Casino, Resort & Spa, site of the NHC. Prospective competitors do not need to be TVG account holders in order to register.
The TVG Online Challenge requires contestants to place hypothetical $2 win and place wagers on 10 designated contest races on Saturday. The 10 contest races will take place at Monmouth Park, Woodbine and Oak Tree at Hollywood Park. Free DRF past performances for the Challenge races will be available at the contest site. The two players amassing the highest number of points based on the Players’ earnings (i.e. the highest final bankroll) from all $2 win and place wagers at the end of the Challenge will receive berths in the NHC in January in Las Vegas.
For more information about the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship, visit www.ntra.com.