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Jun 18, 2010

American Turf Club Lead

By: Joe Girardi


            The two big stories from racing last year were the “Girls of Summer” RACHEL ALEXANDRA and ZENYATTA, both of whom went undefeated last year and battled it out for Horse of the Year honors with RACHEL ALEXANDRA coming out just in front. When it was announced that both would be returning this year to race there was hope that they could both meet up on the racetrack. So far that race has not been able to come to fruition as of yet.

            RACHEL ALEXANDRA returned to the races this year at the Fair Grounds in March but wasn’t her sharp self and got nailed late to finish a close-up second at 1-9. Her next start would come at the end of April at Churchill Downs and again would come up just short finishing a head behind UNRIVALED BELLE. Her latest start however, in the Fleur De Lis Handicap she carried 124lbs to victory over four other rivals while scoring by more than 10 lengths in a solid time of 1:48:3. With that very tough campaign last year maybe she needed those first couple of starts to get back to her old self and maybe just maybe there will be a race down the line with ZENYATTA.

            With a record of 16 for 16 ZENYATTA entered the Grade I Vanity Handicap trying to keep her record perfect as she faced five other rivals. Carrying 129 lbs she was sent off as the 1-2 favorite as plenty of late money poured in for the second choice ST TRINIANS. When the gates broke ZENYATTA took up her usual spot at the back of the pack laying sixth and last while tracking her main rival ST TRINIANS who was laying fifth. The early pace was moderate but as the pace was heating up as they entered the turn ST TRINIANS was four wide and ZENYATTA came five wide while the leader MISS SILVER BROOK began to fade. Into the lane ST TRINIANS and her jockey Martin Garcia let her run and she held a two length lead, Mike Smith was asking ZENYATTA who was closing on the leader and she got up the final few strides to score by a half length while ST TRINIANS was six lengths clear of the show horse. Showing unwavering determination ZENYATTA had to run down a rival that wasn’t stopping instead she had to outrun her to the wire and somehow she did. Inside the 1/16th she appeared beaten but her will to win wouldn’t allow it and she got up late. Now with both horses winning over the weekend, the hope that one day this year they will meet still remains a possibility and racing needs it; they need the superstars.

            ZENYATTA who is probably the most popular racehorse we have seen in a very long time drew a crowd of 12,232, many who came from out of state to see the great mare run. The girl power posters and the whole crowd rooting ZENYATTA it was a big day for California racing. However, on a disturbing note just four days later, Hollywood Park had to cancel racing again because of lack of entries. Thursday, June 17th’s card was canceled because they didn’t have enough horses to fill the races. The synthetic tracks that were installed by order of the California Horse Racing Board was obviously a mistake. These tracks which were supposed to be safer have not been proven, the fact that more horses, larger fields would be the norm which would help the handle is certainly not the case. When they can get cards to fill five to six horse fields is usually what is on tap. There is talk also that they might have to cancel some racing dates over the final month because of the lack of entries. Let us hope that it doesn’t come to that, as it would be another major blow to racing to see a track like Hollywood have to cut racing dates.

            Another big race at Churchill Downs on Saturday was the Grade I Stephen Foster. The field of 11 had a few solid runners among them with BATTLE PLAN going off as the 9-5 choice. BLAME who had a three race win streak heading into the race was the second choice at 7-2. Despite breaking from the outside post 11 BLAME was able to run down BATTLE PLAN who led into the lane but had to settle for second late. GENERAL QUARTERS who chased the pace stayed on well for third. BATTLE PLAN a Pletcher trainee exited the race with an injury and his career was in jeopardy as of this writing. With BLAME, QUALITY ROAD, RACHEL ALEXANDRA and ZENYATTA all of whom are at the top of their game right now it should make for a very exciting second half of the season.



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