Jockey Gary Stevens will return to the Breeders' Cup World Championships after a seven-year absence, continuing the renewal of his Hall of Fame career since coming out of retirement earlier this season. One talented mount on his roster leading into the Nov. 1-2 event is Spendthrift Farm's Beholder, the champion 2-year-old filly of 2012 who will take on seven others Sept. 29 in the $250,000 Zenyatta Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita Park.
The 1 1/16-mile Zenyatta, a major prep for the $2 million Distaff (gr. I) Nov. 1, is a Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" event that drew the likes of grade I winner Joyful Victory and multiple grade I winner Include Me Out. But Beholder, undefeated in two starts at the Zenyatta distance for Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella, will undoubtedly go off the favorite.
Last time out, Stevens rode the sophomore daughter of Henny Hughes to a 2 3/4-length victory in the Sept. 1 Torrey Pines Stakes at Del Mar, her first start since a runner-up finish to Princess of Sylmar in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I). Princess of Sylmar will also test her elders Sept. 28, going up against Royal Delta in the $400,000 Beldame Invitational (gr. I) at Belmont Park.
"She gave me an unbelievable feeling," Stevens said of riding Beholder in the Torrey Pines. "It was like driving a brand new Ferrari for the first time."
Beholder won the Juvenile Fillies last year to solidify her championship status, and also won the local Las Virgenes (gr. I) and Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I) this winter. She brings a 6-for-10 record into the Zenyatta, and carries 121 pounds from post 3.
Trainer Larry Jones took his first trip to Santa Anita last year to run Joyful Victory in the Zenyatta, a race in which the Fox Hill Farms runner finished second to Love and Pride. He came back after skipping the Breeders' Cup and got Joyful Victory her grade I score at the California oval, a four-length romp in the March 16 Santa Margarita Stakes (gr. I).
Jones returns with the fleet-footed gray mare, a 5-year-old daughter of Tapit who has earned more than $1.2 million. Joyful Victory comes off a 7 1/2-length devastation of the July 28 Molly Pitcher Stakes (gr. II) at Monmouth Park. She also won the Houston Ladies Classic Stakes at the beginning of the season in similarly impressive fashion, her only loss from four starts in 2013 coming with a fifth in the May 27 Ogden Phipps (gr. I) at Belmont.
Joyful Victory is the co-highweight at 121 pounds, and will be ridden by Rosie Napravnik from the 7 hole. All others carry 119.
Jay Em Ess Stable's Include Me Out, a multiple grade I winner who was third in last year's Distaff for trainer Ron Ellis, looks to return to the form that saw her take the June 16 Desert Stormer Handicap sprinting 6 1/2 furlongs at Betfair Hollywood Park June 16. The 5-year-old daughter of Include won the 2012 Clement L. Hirsch (gr. I) and Santa Margarita (gr. I) among others, but needs to rebound off an eighth in this year's edition of the Hirsch on Aug. 3 at Del Mar.
Michael Talla's More Chocolate, who won the La Canada (gr. II) in January and was second by 1 1/2 lengths to the recently retiredLady of Fifty in the Hirsch, will go out for trainer John Sadler under Rafael Bejarano from the outside. The 4-year-old Malibu Moon filly has been knocking on the door, with runner-up efforts in this year's Santa Margarita behind Joyful Victory and in the June 15 Vanity Handicap (gr. I) to Byrama.
Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer was supposed to send out Lady of Fifty in the Zenyatta, but will instead be represented by Via Villaggio. Steve Beneto's grade III-winning 4-year-old daughter of Bernardini was fourth in the Zenyatta last year and comes off a third in the Sept. 1 Adoration Stakes going one mile on the all weather track at Del Mar. Before that, she was fifth in the Hirsch.
Padua Stable's Authenticity ships in from the East Coast for trainer Todd Pletcher. The 5-year-old Quiet American runner won the La Troienne Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs earlier in the season and was second to Royal Delta in the Aug. 25 Personal Ensign (gr. I) last out. She won the July 20 Shuvee Handicap (gr. III) at Saratoga Race Course by a length over Flashy American.
That rival also ships in for this spot, having won back-to-back stakes since her defeat. A 4-year-old daughter of Flashy Bull who races for Preston Stables and Ken McPeek, she took the Aug. 9 Alada Stakes at Saratoga in solid fashion before winning the Sept. 7 Locust Grove at Churchill by 1 1/4 lengths over Wine Princess. She also won the Iowa Distaff Stakes earlier in the season.
$250,000 Zenyatta Stakes (gr. I, Race 9, approximate post time 5:00 p.m. PST), fillies & mares 3YOs & Up, 1 1/16 miles (dirt)
PP, Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Great Hot (BRZ), C. Sutherland-Kruse, 119, A C Avila
2. Via Villaggio (KY), C. Nakatani, 119, J Hollendorfer
3. Beholder (KY), G. Stevens, 121, R Mandella
4. Include Me Out (KY), J. Talamo, 119, R Ellis
5. Flashy American (KY), J. Leparoux, 119, K G McPeek
6. Authenticity (KY), M. Garcia, 119, T A Pletcher
7. Joyful Victory (ON), R. Napravnik, 121, L Jones
8. More Chocolate (KY), R. Bejarano, 119, J Sadler