Zardana flies home in the Bayakoa under Victor Espinoza.<br><a target="blank" href="">Order This Photo</a>

Zardana flies home in the Bayakoa under Victor Espinoza.
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Zardana Zeroes In, Tallies Bayakoa Upset

Five-year-old Brazilian-bred mare gives trainer John Shirreffs his fifth win in race.

Trainer John Shirreffs left Life Is Sweet in the barn and won the $150,000 Bayakoa Handicap (gr. II) (VIDEO) anyway when outsider Zardana swept by pacesetter Briecat past the eighth pole en route to a 1 1/4-length victory Dec. 5 at Hollywood Park.

Owned by Arnold Zetcher, the Brazilian-bred 5-year-old Zardana was ridden to victory by a confident Victor Espinoza at odds of 11-1 in the 1 1/16-mile event for fillies and mares.

Zardana enjoyed a ground-saving trip while stalking Briecat, the defending Bayakoa winner who took a two-length lead into the stretch. The winner angled out slightly and swept past the fading leader with encouragement from Espinoza and was in command while driving under the wire in a solid Cushion Track time of 1:42.24. Late-running Silver Swallow rallied from seventh for the runner-up spot with Mike Smith aboard, while Cat by the Tale, ridden by Joel Rosario, also closed with interest to get up for the show.

"I got kind of lucky the way the race set up for me," Espinoza said. "She really relaxed. I tried not to fight her so she could do her own thing."

Briecat weakened to fifth behind Floating Heart. Teamgeist, the 117-pound high weight and slight 3-1 favorite, finished sixth, never recovering from a last-place break.

Speculation during the week had Shirreffs entering Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic (gr. I) winner Life Is Sweet in the Bayakoa. Instead, he switched up with Zardana, who has done almost all of her American racing on the turf but has been working consistently well over the Cushion Track. She signaled her readiness when she breezed :35 1/5 for three furlongs over the surface Dec. 1.

For the hunch players watching Alabama beating top-ranked Florida for the Southeast Conference football championship going on at the same time as the Bayakoa, Zardana's sire, Crimson Tide, was also a red flag.

Shirreffs won his fifth Bayokoa. The trainer of champion mare Zenyatta, he was back in his familiar spot near the gap leading to the winner’s circle following the Bayakoa.
It became a familiar spot for Shirreffs in the late 1990s when he began his Bayakoa run with consecutive wins by Manistique in 1998 and 1999. Shirreffs, who also won the race with Starrer in 2002 and Hollywood Story in 2004, prefers to remain in the background during the winner’s circle proceedings.
"She's really adjusted well training on this track,” he said of Zardana. “She's getting a little better ... she can pull if she wants to. Her workouts have been good — she's worked really well here.  She won three races on the dirt in Brazil.  We've been thinking of running her on the dirt since we got back here (from Santa Anita). It seemed like the thing to do."

Zardana was coming off a fading seventh-place finish in the Las Palmas Handicap (gr. IIT) on the turf at Santa Anita Nov. 6. Out of the Southern Halo mare Dear Filly, she won for the seventh time in 17 tries while boosting her earnings to $293,421. Haras Campestre bred the winner.

She has started 14 times in the United States. In two previous races on the main track in this country she finished out of the money.

Briecat, adding blinkers after fading in the Lady's Secret (gr. I) in her last start Oct. 10, was quick to spring to the lead from the outside for Martin Garcia and controlled the tempo through quarter-mile fractions of :23.65, :46.80, and 1:10.63. She remained in control coming into the homestretch as her main pace rival, Lucky Copy, dropped back.

But Zardana, with Cat by the Tale also revving up for the stretch run, took aim at the leader with Silver Swallow picking off the back markers while rallying down the center of the track. Zardana, once she put Briecat away, was not seriously threatened as Silver Swallow ran on late for second by a half-length over Cat by the Tale.

"The first time I rode her it was tough on me,” said Espinoza, who has ridden three others Bayakoa winners including Hollywood Story. “She really got into the bridle. After the second time, I figured out how she really likes to run. Now I know how to control the reins on her; it's all in the hands with some horses. She likes to run free or she gets angry. I thought today would be her day and that she would run big in this race. She's great right now."

Zardana carried 115 pounds as the sixth choice in the 10-horse field and paid $24, $9.80, and $6.20. She keyed a $2 exacta worth $124.80. Silver Swallow, who has run second in five of her eight starts on Hollywood's main track for trainer and co-owner Bruce Headley, returned $5.40 and $3.80. Irish import Cat by the Tale, coming off a third in the Las Palmas, was $4.40 to show for her first synthetic track start in six American races for Neil Drysdale.

Floating Heart, the only 3-year-old in the field, finished a half-length farther back in fourth. After Briecat and Teamgeist came Eissoai, Made for Magic, Lucky Copy, and Smooth Performer. Czechers was scratched.