Ventura, one of the leading stars for the late trainer Bobby Frankel and Juddmonte Farms during the past two years, goes for her fourth grade I victory against six rivals in the Nov. 28 Matriarch Stakes (gr. IT) at Hollywood Park.
The 5-year-old Chester House mare, scheduled to be bred in 2010, is making her final start in the $300,000 Matriarch, a one-mile grass event for older fillies and mares. One day after Ventura was unable to successfully defend her title in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint -- finishing second to Informed Decision over the Pro-Ride track at Santa Anita Nov. 6 -- Frankel, the Hall of Fame conditioner who was dying of leukemia, recommended to assistant trainer Humberto Ascanio that he bring her right back in the Matriarch.
Ascanio, now the trainer of record, would relish a victory by Ventura, but not for himself.
“I want her to win it for Bobby,” he said. “He made this filly.”
Frankel won the Matriarch a record eight times over a 12-year period and long dominated the Turf Festival with 17 winners.
Under weight-for-age conditions, six of the seven contestants will carry 123 pounds, while the 3-year-old April Pride gets a three-pound concession. Among those Ventura will face is IEAH's Diamondrella, a two-time grade I winner this year who was supplemented to the Matriarch for $6,000.
Diamondrella, previously in the Angel Penna Jr. barn, will be saddled for the first time by Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, who now trains a small string in Southern California.
Ventura, who won both the Woodbine Mile (Can-IT) against males and the Santa Monica Handicap (gr. I) this year, can put the finishing touches on a stellar campaign for the Frankel team in the Matriarch.
She brings a career mark of 9-8-1 in 20 starts and earnings of $2,400,375 into the race. In 2009, Ventura has the two grade I victories and three seconds in five races. The versatile late-running mare has four wins on synthetic tracks, but may be better on grass, where she has posted a 5-6-1 mark in 13 tries.
Among her victories was the 2008 Just a Game Stakes (gr. IT) at Belmont Park in June 2008. That victory preceded Ventura's only prior appearance at Hollywood Park when she was nosed by Diamond Diva in a tremendous finish to the CashCall Mile (gr. IIT). Ventura would go to win the BC Filly & Mare Sprint over Indian Blessing at Santa Anita.
Garrett Gomez, who has been Ventura's regular rider since early last year, will be aboard again. They will break from post 4.
Diamondrella, who won both the Just a Game and Keeneland's First Lady (gr. IT) this year, both at the Matriarch's one-mile distance, comes off a troubled effort in the Nov. 7 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint against males. Sent off at odds of 5-1, she was squeezed at the start and stuck wide on the turn and never got involved while finishing 11th, less than six lengths behind the victorious California Flag.
Alex Solis will take over on the bay mare for Rajiv Maragh, who was the regular rider while Diamondrella was based in New York.
Stevens took over the training chores at Santa Anita recently after the English-bred daughter of Rock of Gibraltar for IEAH Stable.
“She’s all class,” said Stevens. “She lets you know she owns the barn.”
Diamondrella has won three of five races in 2009 and is 8-2-1 in 18 career starts with earnings of $784,576.
Also looking to atone for a sub-par outing in the Breeders' Cup is the hard-knocking millionaire Rutherienne, an 11-time winner in 23 starts who faded to seventh in her first try at 10 furlongs in the Nov. 6 Emirates Airline Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT). It was a rare out-of-the-money performance for the 5-year-old daughter of Pulpit trained by Christophe Clement for owner/breeder Virginia Kraft-Payson.
Ruherienne won the Noble Damsel (gr. IIIT) at Belmont Park over one mile prior to the Breeders' Cup and the grade II Nassau Stakes at Woodbine earlier in the year. Joel Rosario picks up the ride, replacing Alan Garcia.
The favored trio will have to contend with course-loving Tuscan Evening, who was three-for-three over the Hollywood turf this summer, including a win in the Royal Heroine Mile (gr. IIT) July 11. The 4-year-old Irish-bred filly has won six of nine starts in 2009, including Oak Tree's Las Palmas Handicap (gr. IIT) Nov. 6 n the Breeders' Cup undercard.
The daughter of Oasis Dream, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer for William de Burgh, should dictate the pace with jockey Rafael Bejarano.
April Pride makes her first stakes appearance against older rivals following her 7-1 upset in the one-mile Harold C. Ramser Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Oak Tree Oct. 24. Trained by James Cassidy for Forging Oaks Farm, the Great Britain-bred daughter of Falbrav makes her initial start at Hollywood Park in the Matriarch. She worked three furlongs in :35 3/5 over the turf course Nov. 25.
“She just needs an aggressive ride,” said Cassidy. “She’s never been one that doesn’t try.” David Flores has the call.
New Zealand import Puttanesca, a grade II winner in her native land, takes a giant step up in her third start for trainer Julio Canani. Taste's Sis comes out of a fourth-place try in the Oct. 24 Queen of the Green Stakes at Turf Paradise and seeks her first stakes win.
$300,000 Matriarch Stakes (gr. IT, Race 8, 4:05 p.m. PST), Fillies & mares 3 & Up, 1 Mile (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. April Pride (GB), D R Flores, 120, J M Cassidy
2. Puttanesca (NZ), J Talamo, 123, J C Canani
3. Diamondrella (GB), A O Solis, 123, G L Stevens
4. Ventura (KY), G K Gomez, 123, H Ascanio
5. Rutherienne (KY), J Rosario, 123, C Clement
6. Tuscan Evening (IRE), R Bejarano, 123, J Hollendorfer
7. Taste's Sis (KY), M C Baze, 123, M Polanco