Madame Pietra was part of the "seconditis" felt by Howard Zucker's Del Mar barn last season, but the veteran trainer never lost faith in the mare, who now has four straight stakes victories.
Since getting back on top of her game last fall at Santa Anita, Madame Pietra has won twice this year, taking the Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare sprint at Gulfstream Park and the Desert Stormer Handicap (gr. III) at Hollywood Park.
She's the morning line favorite in Saturday's Rancho Bernardo Handicap (gr. III) for fillies and mares going 6 1/2 furlongs at Del Mar.
During that stretch at Del Mar last year, the 6-year-old daughter of the stallion Roy was defeated in the Fantastic Girl Stakes and an optional claiming/allowance event.
"There were horses that beat her that would never beat her again," Zucker said. "She has really developed her style a lot more effectively since last summer.
"She's a lot easier to rate now. She finally realized it was better to listen to us than to do what she wanted to do. She used to pass horses and then get re-passed by the same horses in the lane. She'd get to the front and hang. She doesn't do that any more. She's learned to draw off."
Zucker gives jockey Patrick Valenzuela, who has ridden her in the four wins, much credit for the change in Madame Pietra.
"Patrick's ridden her the way he's wanted to ride her right from the start," Zucker said. "He's perfect on her and I'm sure not going to tamper with what they've been doing. I let the mare train herself and the rider ride her the way he wants, and I can sit back and enjoy it."
Of the way the race is shaping up, Zucker said, "It's a really tough race. It came up great."
Madame Pietra is the high weight at 122 pounds and is the morning-line favorite at 5-2. While she has developed a powerful closing kick, she'll have plenty of competition when the field of nine straightens for the wire.
The main challenger is Cee's Elegance, impressive winner of the A Gleam Handicap at Hollywood Park earlier this summer, who second morning-line favorite at 3-1. Madame Pietra missed that race with a foot bruise.$150,000 Rancho Bernardo Handicap (gr. III), fillies and mares 3 & up, 6 1/2 furlongs
PP. Wgt., Jockey
1. Cee's Elegance, 119, Victor Espinoza
2. Fancee Bargain, 112, Frank Alvarado
3. Spring Meadow, 117, Julie Krone
4. Coconut Girl, 113, Tyler Baze
5. Madame Pietra, 122, Patrick Valenzuela
6. Lacie Girl, 116, Russell Baze
7. Ragin T Rex, 112, Matt Garcia
8. Jetinto Houston, 115, Mike Smith
9. Secret Liaison, 116, Corey Nakatani