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Anne M. Eberhardt

Brown Confident with Zagora in F&M Turf

Trainer's first grade I winner will make Breeders' Cup debut in 22nd start.

"She's going to have to be dealt with on Friday," trainer Chad Brown remarked Oct. 30 at Santa Anita Park. "I have respect for the horses that have come over here, but mine is pretty good."

The subject of conversation was not undefeated Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic (gr. I) contender Awesome Feather, but Filly and Mare Turf (gr. IT) challenger Zagora, the lithe chestnut mare who gave Brown his first grade I win as a trainer when taking the Diana Stakes (gr. IT) at Saratoga Race Course in 2011.

Zagora's form leading up to a Nov. 2 start in the Filly and Mare Turf has Brown confident against foes both foreign and domestic, even with the 5-year-old mare a co-fourth choice on the morning line. Against British favorite The Fugue and American second-choice Marketing Mix, both rolling in off group and grade I victories, and with French filly Ridasiyna also looming large, Brown said his runner stands a chance.

"She's a proven grade I horse over here now," he remarked. "She's had a terrific year, she's won a bunch of stakes, and she couldn't look any better right now."

A seven-time stakes winner for owner Martin Schwartz, Zagora makes her Breeders' Cup debut in her 22nd career start. She comes into the 1 1/4-mile test off a runner-up finish in the Sept. 29 Flower Bowl Invitational (gr. IT) at Belmont Park, a race she missed by half a length to fellow Filly and Mare Turf contender Nahrain going the same distance on yielding lawn.

"She ran great in the Flower Bowl," Brown said. "It's not her preferred surface but the fact that she ran so well on it anyhow gave us reason to believe she can get the mile and a quarter with top fillies on firm turf. That's the reason to come out here."

The first eight of Zagora's starts were in Europe in 2009 and 2010, where the French-bred daughter of Green TuneZaneton, by Mtoto was a dual group III winner. It was in the U.S. under Brown's care, however, that Zagora began to blossom at the end of 2010.

Second in that year's edition of the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (gr. IT) at Keeneland in her first start in North America, Zagora came running with two seconds and a third in graded company before winning the Diana with a four-wide move off the final turn.

This year she notched victories in the Endeavour Stakes (gr. IIIT) and Hillsborough Stakes (gr. IIIT) in Florida, the Gallorette Handicap (gr. IIT) at Pimlico, and the Ballston Spa Stakes (gr. IIT) at Saratoga after running third as defending champ in the Diana. Her record stands at 9-5-3 with earnings of $1,288,589.

Zagora shipped well to Santa Anita from Brown's New York base Oct. 29 and jogged at Santa Anita Oct. 30 under exercise rider Javier Herrera.

"She's doing great," Brown remarked. "She's going to the get the firm ground she likes and I'm confident that she will be effective at a mile and a quarter on firm ground. She has a good post inside (2) and she should get a good trip from there."

Brown, former assistant to the late Bobby Frankel, has increasingly found himself taking on top European turf fillies to contend in North America. As his operation continues to expand, runners like Zagora give his stable the ability to hold its own against international competition.

"Obviously there are serious horses in there based on the European form that I know since I get plenty of those horses to train," he said. "It's a tough field, a great edition of the Filly and Mare Turf, and we're just happy to be in the race. I think she's got a reasonable shot to win."