Undefeated Zenyatta, last year's champion older female, gets her 2009 campaign off to a slightly belated start when she carries top weight of 126 pounds in Hollywood Park's $150,000 Milady Handicap (gr. II) May 23.
Perfect in nine starts, Jerry and Ann Moss' 5-year-old daughter of Street Cry had been scheduled to start her season in the Louisville Distaff (gr. II) at Churchill Downs on May 1, but was a race-day scratch by trainer John Shirreffs when heavy rain caused a sloppy track.
Zenyatta is slotted in the outside post in a field of nine fillies and mares contesting the 1 1/6-mile event on Hollywood's Cushion Track. Shirreffs also saddles Zenyatta's main competition in the race, Life Is Sweet. Winner of the Santa Margarita (gr. I) at Santa Anita in her last start, the 4-year-old Storm Cat filly is on a three-race win streak.
The powerful Zenyatta won seven races in 2008, ending her championship season with a 1 1/2-length victory over Cocoa Beach in the Breeders' Cup Lady's Classic (gr. I). Rallying from last under a vigorous hand ride, she once again demonstrated a devastating late kick for jockey Mike Smith, who will be aboard in the Milady. She captured four grade I races and three grade II events last year after winning twice as a 3-year-old.
She enters the race with earnings of $2,144,580. Four of Zenyatta's wins have come on Hollywood's main track, including last year's Milady, which she easily took by 2 1/2 lengths over Santa Teresita in spite of being squeezed at the start.
Stablemate Life Is Sweet is closest in the weights at 122. Owned and bred by Martin and Pam Wygod, she has won this year's El Encino (gr. II), La Canada (gr. II) and the March 14 Santa Margarita since coming to Shirreffs from the barn of Bill Mott. All were at Santa Anita. This will be the bay filly's first start at Hollywood.
Sherriffs had not planned for the fillies to meet head-on, at least this early in the year. But the Louisville Distaff rain-out forced a change in plans.
Life Is Sweet made five of her seven starts for Mott on turf. The bay enters the Milady with five wins in 10 tries for earnings of $540,810. Two-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Gomez has been aboard for each of her California victories and will fly in from New York to take the mount.
Dawn After Dawn, the 2008 La Canada winner, and productive California-bred Bel Air Sizzle have been running on turf of late.
Second in the Distaff Turf Mile (gr. IIT) at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby day, Dawn After Dawn, trained by John Sadler, has won six races (four on turf) for earnings of $568,094.
Bel Air Sizzle, a winner of five of 21 races and $466,366 for conditioner Barry Abrams, has made 12 straight starts on turf since winning the 2009 Melair through disqualification.
Allicansayis Wow does not have the credentials to match the heavy weights, but she demanded attention while winning her North American debut at Hollywood April 23. After clipping heels at the head of the stretch and almost going down, she rallied from last to win an allowance race at 1 1/16 miles. Trained by Patrick Biancone, Allicansayis Wow began her career in Ireland, where she won at first asking before losing seven consecutive races in 2007-08.
Champagne Eyes, front-running winner of the Santa Lucia Handicap at Santa Anita last month, and Gambler's Justice, a tough California-bred stakes winner, should ensure a decent pace. Hot n' Dusty, an allowance winner also trained by Abrams, and Taste's Sis, complete the field.
$150,000 Milady Handicap (gr. II, Race 8, 4:30 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 3 & Up, 1 1/16 Miles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight
1. Gambler's Justice, M Garcia, 113
2. Taste's Sis, D Sorenson, 112
3. Allicansayis Wow, J Talamo, 113
4. Dawn After Dawn, J Rosario, 116
5. Champagne Eyes, M C Baze, 114
6. Bel Air Sizzle, R Bejarano, 114
7. Life Is Sweet, G K Gomez, 122
8. Hot n' Dusty, A O Solis, 110
9. Zenyatta, M E Smith, 126