She's beaten most of them before, but in spite of that, undefeated Zenyatta won't be lonely in the starting gate when she defends her title in the $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (gr. I) at Del Mar on Aug. 9.
Ten older fillies and mares were entered in the 1 1/16-mile Polytrack event, with Jerry and Ann Moss' splendid 5-year-old daughter of Street Cry drawing the far outside post. Trained by John Shirreffs, Zenyatta will have regular rider Mike Smith aboard as she goes for her 12th successive victory while packing co-high weight of 123 pounds under the race's new allowance conditions. The Hirsch was previously a handicap race.
If all 10 go, it will be the largest field the 2008 Eclipse Award winner has faced since her maiden debut in a field of 12 on Nov. 22, 2007, at Hollywood Park. Zenyatta faced seven rivals when she won last year's Hirsch, unleashing her customary late charge for a one-length victory. It is her only prior start at Del Mar.
Zenyatta is making her first start since registering a 2 1/2-length victory in the Vanity Handicap (gr. I) at Hollywood Park June 27 for her fifth grade I triumph. She be shortening up a little in distance from the 1 1/8-mile Vanity. Zenyatta, whose connections are hoping for a Horse of the Year title, comes into the race with lifetime earnings of $2,414,580.
With a win, Zenyatta would move to within one victory of the great Personal Ensign, who finished her career a perfect 13-for-13 with a dramatic come-from-behind triumph over 1988 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Winning Colors in that year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I). The Distaff, now known as the Ladies' Classic, was won by Zenyatta last year as she locked up divisional honors.
Among those taking another crack at Zenyatta are Briecat, Dawn After Dawn and Hot n' Dusty, who finished second, third and fourth, respectively, in the Vanity; and Life Is Sweet and Champagne Eyes, second and fifth in the Milady Handicap (gr. II) at Hollywood prior to the Vanity. New faces challenging the champ are Anabaa's Creation, Lethal Heat, Patricia's Gem and Tidal Dance.
The biggest danger to Zenyatta's unbeaten status would appear to be stablemate Life Is Sweet, a grade I winner who will be at equal weight in the Hirsch. Martin and Pam Wgod's Life Is Sweet has never raced on Del Mar's Polytrack, though she was fabulous over Santa Anita's synthetic track, where she won three consecutive graded stakes this year, capped by the Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap (gr. I) in March.
The daughter of Storm Cat met Zenyatta in the 1 1/16-mile Milady May 23, and while she turned in a strong effort, she could not stay with the big mare late and wound up beaten by 1 3/4 lengths. Life Is Sweet skipped the Vanity, returning instead to finish third against males in the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) July 11. Shirreffs was planning to race her against the boys again in the San Diego Handicap (gr. II) Aug. 2, but he and her owners decided against it when Life Is Sweet was slow to adapt to the Del Mar surface.
"Right now, we're trying it," Martin Wygod told Daily Racing Form of the upcoming race. He said he has more confidence since Life Is Sweet has trained with renewed interest on recent mornings.
"If she likes the track like she does Santa Anita, it will be a good horse race," Wygod added.
There should be a good pace in the Hirsch, with Briecat, who led the Vanity by two lengths before she was overtaken by Zenyatta, Champagne Eyes and Patricia's Gem all likely to vie for the lead.
Champagne Eyes was overwhelmed by Zenyatta in the Milady, beaten by 15 lengths. But the Suarez Racing-owned Flatter filly bounced right back for trainer Doug O'Neill with a front-running 10 1/2-length triumph over second-level allowance foes July 9. She clocked the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:42.44.
Patricia's Gem, a swift daughter of Mineshaft trained by Richard Mandella, has done most of her best work on turf. She had a three-race win streak halted in her stakes debut in the Royal Heroine Mile Handicap (gr. IIT) July 11 when she was nosed at the wire by the well-regarded Tuscan Evening.
Barry Abrams, who won the Cougar II Handicap Aug. 5 with Unusual Suspect, entered a pair in the Hirsch: Lethal Heat, a grade II winner who ran fourth in her comeback allowance race July 25 after a six-month layoff; and Hot n' Dusty, who finished second in a turf race at Del Mar Aug. 1.
Irish-bred Anabaa's Creation, from the Julio Canani barn, was group-placed in France. She won her American debut over second-level allowance foes on Santa Anita's Pro-Ride in April before finishing fifth in a turf race at Hollywood in her last start May 31.
$300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (gr. I, Race 8, 5:30 p.m.), F & M, 3 & Up, 1 1/16 Miles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Tidal Dance (FL), J. Valdivia, Jr., 119, P. Eurton
2. Patricia's Gem (KY), V. Espinoza, 119, R. E. Mandella
3. Briecat (FL), M. Garcia, 119, V. Cerin
4. Dawn After Dawn (FL), A. Quinonez, 119, J. W. Sadler
5. Champagne Eyes (KY), J. Rosario, 119, D. F. O'Neill
6. Hot n' Dusty (CA), A.O. Solis, 119, B. Abrams
7. Life Is Sweet (KY), G. K. Gomez, 123, J. A. Shirreffs
8. Anabaa's Creation (IRE), T. Baze, 119, J. C. Canani
9. Lethal Heat (CA), J. Talamo, 119, B. Abrams
10. Zenyatta (KY), M. E. Smith, 123, J. A. Shirreffs