Two-time champion Zenyatta attempts to remain perfect in a modern-day record 17 consecutive, unrestricted races when she faces five opponents in the $250,000 Vanity Handicap (gr. I) at Hollywood Park June 13.
The Vanity, at 1 1/8 miles over Hollywood's Cushion Track, is the eighth race on the program with a post time of 4:37 p.m. PDT. TVG will provide a one-hour telecast (from 4 to 5 p.m. PDT) showcasing Zenyatta's record attempt.
Her rivals in this year's Vanity, in which she carries 129 pounds, include a pair of tough grade II winners. St Trinians and Zardana, who is Zenyatta's stablemate, can play the role of spoilers. St Trinians will shoulder 120 pounds while Zardana enters with 118.
But the biggest obstacle for Zenyatta, who likes to launch her bid from the back of the pack on the final turn, could be a complete lack of pace. The outsider Cherryblossommiss or Zardana, based on her turf form of last year, seem the most likely candidates to inherit the lead.
Zenyatta, a 6-year-old Kentucky-bred daughter of Street Cry and the Kris S. mare Vertigineux, is owned by Jerry and Ann Moss and trained by John Shirreffs. If she wins the Vanity for an unprecedented third time, Zenyatta would surpass Citation, Cigar, and Mister Frisky as the modern-day record holder for most consecutive victories in races not restricted to state breds.
Mike Smith, who has been aboard the big dark bay mare for her last 13 wins, has the riding assignment once more. They will break from post 5.
With earnings of $5,924,580, Zenyatta is seeking her 11th grade I victory and the 15th graded stakes score of her remarkable career, which began with a pair of wins in 2007. She was a $50,000 Keeneland yearling purchase in 2005.
“Mentally and physically, she’s doing terrific,” said exercise rider Steve Willard. “She’s like her regular old self. Every time she runs, you wonder if she’s going to make it through another race. But she always comes through.”
Zenyatta won her first Vanity in 2008, defeating Tough Tiz's Sis by a half-length as the 3-10 choice in what was then the closest race of her six-race career. Her win in last year's race, also under 129 pounds, came by 2 1/2 lengths over Briecat. That victory began a six-race win streak in grade I races she brings into this year's contest.
The big-closing mare will be making her seventh start over her home track, meaning she has raced at Hollywood more than at any other track. She also has run six times at Santa Anita and twice at Del Mar and Oaklawn Park. Zenyatta won an Eclipse Award as champion older mare in 2008 and repeated the title in 2009, when she culminated the season with an unforgettable and unprecedented win over males by one length in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) at Santa Anita.
After being briefly retired, Zenyatta has raced twice in 2010 since the BC Classic, capturing the Santa Margarita Handicap (gr. I) at Santa Anita March 13 and the Apple Blossom Stakes (gr. I) at Oaklawn April 9.
“I think the older this filly gets, the better she looks,” said groom Mario Espinoza admiringly of Zenyatta. “She used to get more excited, like a teenager. Now, she’s more relaxed.”
Trainer Mike Mitchell had been trying to avoid Zenyatta, going so far as running St Trinians in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) rather that facing her in the Santa Margarita.
The British-bred mare won her first four United States starts, capped by the Santa Maria Handicap (gr. II) Feb. 13 before taking on males in the Big 'Cap. Sent off as the 3-1 favorite in the 14-horse field, she was bumped and jostled at several points in the race and came home sixth. The Vanity will be her first start since that March 6 effort.
“She had kind of a rough trip in the Santa Anita Handicap,” said Mitchell. “Maybe it would have been different with a smaller field. I decided to give her a break after that. That was then. Now is now. We’re all ready.”
The 5-year-old daughter of Piccolo began her career in England and brings a 7-0-3 mark in 12 starts with earnings of $268,587 into the Vanity.
“Zenyatta is a great mare, maybe the greatest mare I’ve ever seen,” said Mitchell. “I’m not running against her because I don’t respect her.”
Red-hot jockey Martin Garcia is the new rider for the St Trinians, replacing Joel Rosario. St Trinians does her best running while stalking the pace and could get the jump on Zenyatta behind a slow pace.
Shirreffs, who is seeking a record fifth Vanity win, will also be represented by Zardana. Besides the two wins with Zenyatta, Shirreffs has also won with Hollywood Story (2006) and Manistique (1999).
Owned by Arnold Zetcher, Zardana is a 6-year-old Brazilian-bred mare by Crimson Tide. She was originally pointed to the Ogden Phipps Handficap (gr. I) at Belmont Park, but those plans changed earlier in the week, so she will take on her stablemate.
“She worked too fast here Sunday (June 6), five furlongs in :58 and 4, to ship across the country,” explained Shirreffs. “Then the plane that was supposed to take her was delayed a day until Wednesday (June 9). All things added up to ‘don’t go.’ It was in the horse’s best interests to stay here.”
Zardana has already played giant slayer once this year when she defeated Rachel Alexandra, the 2009 Horse of the Year, in the $200,000 New Orleans Ladies Stakes March 13 at Fair Grounds.
Fifth in the subsequent La Troienne Stakes (gr. II) April 30 at Churchill Downs, Zardana has won eight of 20 starts while earning $438,276.
In her most recent race at Hollywood Park, Zardana won the Bayakoa Handicap (gr. II) Dec. 5. Victor Espinoza will ride from post 3.
The other three Vanity participants are without a graded stakes win.
David and Holly Wilson and Ron Waranch's Will O Way, a 4-year-old daughter of Broken Vow trained by Vladimir Cerin is a three-time winner in 13 starts, including a victory in the California Oaks at Golden Gate Fields in January 2009.
Miss Silver Brook, has won twice in 14 starts for trainer Julio Canani and owners Anthony Fanticola and Joe Scardino.
Her best finish in four graded stakes races was a pair of fourths-- in the 2009 La Habra and last month’s Milady Handicap (gr. II) at Hollywood Park. Miss Silver Brook finished two lengths behind winner Made For Magic in the May 16 Milady.
Cherryblossommiss, a 5-year-old Langfuhr mare, has also won two of 14. Trained by John Sadler for owner Alex Venneri, she should be fresh. She finished third in the Harry Henson Handicap in her last start March 28 at Sunland Park.
$250,000 Vanity Handicap (gr. I, Race 8, 4:35 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 3 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Synthetic)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Miss Silver Brook (KY), J Talamo, 112, J C Canani
2. St Trinians (GB), M Garcia, 120, M R Mitchell
3. Zardana (BRZ), V Espinoza, 118, J A Shirreffs
4. Will O Way (KY), T Baze, 114, V Cerin
5. Zenyatta (KY), M E Smith, 129, J A Shirreffs
6. Cherryblossommiss (KY), R Bejarano, 112, J W Sadler