News and notes from around the Thoroughbred racing world, compiled by NTRA Communications.
ZENYATTA SECOND, RACHEL SEVENTH IN AP FEMALE ATHLETE OF YEAR VOTING
Unbeaten on the racetrack, the Champion mare Zenyatta experienced an honorable first “defeat” on Tuesday when the Associated Press named her second on its list of top female athletes for 2009. Only tennis star Serena Williams finished ahead of Zenyatta.
The horse that Zenyatta will vie with for 2009 Horse of the Year honors, Rachel Alexandra, also made the AP’s list, checking in at number seven.
“It’s been an unprecedented year for our sport with not one, but two females distinguishing themselves as all-time greats. Their historic campaigns transcended horse racing and captured the attention of sports fans around the world. I’m eager to see which Thoroughbred will be voted Horse of the Year at the Eclipse Awards on January 18.”
Other female athletes making the AP’s top 10 list were Kim Clijsters (tennis), Lindsey Vonn (alpine skiing), Diana Taurasi (basketball), Maya Moore (basketball), Bridget Sloan (gymnastics), Jiyai Shin (golf) and Erin Hamlin (luge). Only tennis, basketball and horse racing were represented by two entries on the list.
ZENYATTA TO BE HONORED AS SANTA ANITA OPENS WITH PAIR OF GRADE I STAKES
Zenyatta returns to the scene of her greatest triumph Saturday when the champion mare will be honored in a farewell appearance at Santa Anita Park on the track’s traditional, day-after-Christmas opening day.
Zenyatta captured the hearts of the racing world on November 7 with a historic victory in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic in which she became the first female to win the mile and a quarter Classic.
Sharing top billing with Zenyatta on Saturday will be a pair of Grade I, $300,000 stakes for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs: the Malibu Stakes for the boys, and the La Brea Stakes for fillies. The big day marks the commencement of Santa Anita’s 75th anniversary season. Paying customers will receive both Santa Anita’s traditional wall calendar and a color poster of the undefeated Zenyatta, sponsored by HRTV. Also on Saturday, a life-sized bronze statue of the legendary Hall of Fame gelding John Henry will be unveiled in the Paddock Gardens.
The 58th running of the Malibu Stakes drew 13 entrants. The likely favorite is the Bob Baffert-trained Misremembered, who drew the rail and will be making his first start at a sprint distance.
“Shortening up is not his bag,” said the 56-year-old trainer, “but good horses can win going seven-eighths. He worked great the other day. We’ve got to take a shot for a Grade I at $300,000.”
Misremembered enters the Malibu off a neck loss to Blame while defeating 2009 Santa Anita Handicap winner Einstein one month ago in the Grade II, $400,000 Clark Handicap over 1 1/8 miles at Churchill Downs. Victor Espinoza rides the winner of the Indiana Derby and Hollywood Park’s Swaps Stakes who will carry co-high weight of 121 pounds. The Malibu is one of only two of Santa Anita’s 10 Grade I stakes that Hall of Famer Baffert has never won.
Baffert will also have action in the La Brea, a race he has won in three of the last four years, when he sends out Grade I winner Gabby’s Golden Girl among 12 entrants in that event’s 37th running. Mike Smith rides the bay filly who will carry high weight of 123 pounds.
The opening day card’s stakes schedule is rounded out by a pair of $100,000 competitions: the Grade III Sir Beaufort for 3-year-olds at one mile on turf and the California Breeders Champion Stakes for state-bred 2-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles.
TWELVE STILL VYING FOR $100,000 PRIZE AS NHC TOUR MAKES FINAL STOP
Bryan Wagner of New Orleans will take a slim, 42-point lead with him to the Surfside Race Place in Del Mar, Calif., where the final Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) qualifier offering NHC Tour points will be held this Saturday and Sunday, December 26-27.
At stake for Wagner is a $100,000 prize for finishing first in the year-long standings and a potential $2 million bonus available to the NHC Tour winner should he or she go on to win January’s 11th annual National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas on January 29-30. Prize money is also handed out to the second- through fifth-place NHC Tour finishers with second place earning $50,000; third place, $25,000; fourth place, $10,000; and fifth place, $5,000. The top five overall NHC Tour point earners also earn automatic berths in the 12th annual NHC in January 2011. Wagner currently has 10,042 NHC Tour points, which are awarded based on top finishes at NHC qualifying events during the year. Only a player’s top five scores count toward his or her overall total.
No fewer than 11 fellow NHC Tour members could catch Wagner with a win in Del Mar. Among them is Bryan’s wife Judy, who currently sits in fifth place with 9,154 points. Judy was the winner of the NHC Finals in January 2001. Others presently in the top five are Steven Hartshorn of Newport Beach, Calif., (10,000 points); Michael Labriola of Richmond, Calif., (9,422); and Shawn Turner of Middletown, Md. (9,275). The top 10 percent of finishers at Del Mar will all receive NHC Tour points, with the winner earning 3,000 points.
More than 380 NHC Tour members have earned points so far this year in handicapping qualifiers hosted by 39 different NTRA-member organizations. Red Rock Casino, Resort and Spa will host a “Last Chance” qualifier on January 27 that will offer the final berths for the January 29-30 NHC at Red Rock, where 302 contestants will compete for an estimated $1 million prize pool and a first prize of $500,000. But that Last Chance qualifier on January 27 will not award NHC Tour points.
The Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship is the most important tournament of the year for horseplayers and is the culmination of a year-long series of NTRA-sanctioned local tournaments conducted by racetracks, casino racebooks, off-track betting facilities and horse racing and handicapping Web sites, each of which sends its top qualifiers to the national finals. This year, more than 100,000 people will have attempted to qualify for the 2010 NHC.
The NHC Tour is a yearlong bonus series offering additional prize money and qualifying berths to the DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship. Participants must pay an annual $125 registration fee. Tour members then receive NHC Tour points for top finishes in NHC qualifying events held during the year. Additional benefits for NHC Tour members include automatic enrollment in the Horseplayers’ Coalition. The Coalition seeks legislative and regulatory solutions to tax and business issues that impact pari-mutuel racetracks and their customers and provides grass roots support for the NTRA’s lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill. Tour members also are automatically eligible to participate in NTRA Advantage, offering preferred pricing on products and services from leading suppliers, including John Deere, Sherwin-Williams, OfficeDepot, UPS and Toshiba. Individuals may become NHC Tour members by visiting www.ntra.com/nhctour.