Zensational is trainer Bob Baffert's newest sprint star. The front-running 3-year-old son of Unbridled's Song became a grade I winner in his stakes debut, leading all the way to win the $300,000 Triple Bend Handicap at Hollywood Park July 5 (VIDEO).
Ridden by Victor Espinoza, the speedy gray/roan colt proved a handy winner over older horses in the seven-furlong Triple Bend, which he won by one length over Rush With Thunder. Noble Court charged from well back in the stretch to narrowly miss the place spot. The final time was 1:21.34.
"He's just so fast. He's incredible. He's a beast," Baffert enthused immediately after the win. "He''s one of the few you get in a lifetime."
Zayat Stables owns Zensational, who won for the third time in five starts.
Zensational broke with the field but there was no holding him back as they reached the main track and Espinoza let him go to the front. After an opening quarter-mile of :22.34, Zensational took command over Street Magician and Trumpet Player Jay, building a 2 1/2-length advantage on the turn. Racing slightly off the rail, Zensational had his only close call when challenged on the inside by Bet On Victor, who got to within a half-length as they came into the stretch. Bet On Victor fell back quickly after that and replays showed that Zensational lugged in on Bet On Victor. Stewards did not make an inquiry into the incident, however.
Meantime, Zensational's concerns were to his outside where Rush With Thunder was threatening. But the winning colt proved too tough, edging away again to hold a clear lead. Rush With Thunder, ridden by Alonso Quinonez, came back on in deep stretch to make it closer. They just held off Noble Court and Joel Rosario, who were finishing best of all on the extreme outside. Star Nicholas settled for fourth.
"I wanted to keep him wide down the backstretch because when he's close to other horses he likes to fight,” Espinoza said after his third win in the Triple Bend. “It helped a lot because he relaxed after that. The way he finished today was unbelievable. This is the second time I rode him and he showed big improvement from that race to this one."
Zensational was coming off a 1 1/4-length win in a 6 1/2-furlong heat for optional claiming allowance horses at Hollywood May 24. He broke his maiden Feb. 21 at Santa Anita and has won three of four starts since. His only miss came in a runner-up finish against optional claimers at one mile.
Bred in Kentucky by Claiborne Farm, Zensational earned $180,000 for the victory and boosted his bankroll to $249,300. Purchased for $700,000 at Fasig-Tipton Florida's select sale of 2 year-olds in training, he is out of the Phone Trick mare Joke.
Zensational became the first 3-year-old winner of the Triple Bend since Debonaire Junior won in 1984.
“I like when they run like they train,” Baffert said. “It’s very rare. He just has that brilliant speed. He’s getting better and he’s relaxing a little bit. I told him (Espinoza) to keep him out there If you bring a horse like him to the rail, he’ll just take off on you.”
The winner carried 114 pounds -- seven fewer than the top-weighted Noble Court -- and paid $5.40, $4.40 and $3.40. Rush With Thunder, a close second to Noble Court in the Ack Ack Handicap (gr. III) June 6, returned $10 and $6. The $2 exacta paid $64. Second choice Noble Court was $3 to show.
Star Nicholas was followed by Paul's Hope, Trumpet Player Jay, Siren Lure, Bet On Victor, Rebellion and Street Magician. Bamaha Breeze, Liquidity, Monterey Jazz and Silent Soul all scratched.