Briecat is back to defend her title in the $150,000 Bayakoa Handicap (gr. II) at Hollywood Park Dec. 5, part of a field that swelled to 11 with the absence of Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic (gr. I) winner Life Is Sweet, who was not entered.
Owner Marty Wygod said last weekend that Life Is Sweet was a potential starter in the 1 1/16-mile Bayakoa. But with trainer John Shirreffs' decision not to enter the standout Storm Cat filly, the race opened up. Shirreffs will instead be represented by Arnold Zetcher's Brazilian-bred mare Zardana.
The Bayakoa will run as the eighth event on the nine-race program.
Teamgeist, a 6-year-old Argentina-bred mare with multiple group wins in her native land, was made the 117-pound highweight in the field. Trained by Ken McPeek for owners El Catorce, the roan is winless in four North American starts and comes in off a non-threatening sixth in the Las Palmas Handicap (gr. IIT) on the grass at Santa Anita Nov. 6.
Briecat, trained by Vladimir Cerin for owners Holly and David Wilson, won last year's Bayakoa in front-running fashion, setting quick fractions over Hollywood's Cushion Track while having enough left in the tank to edge away to a 2 1/4-length victory at odds of 13-1. She has won two of four starts over the course with one second.
The 4-year-old Florida-bred daughter of Adcat lost five races in a row after last year's Bayakoa -- including a runner-up finish to Zenyatta in Hollywood's Vanity Handicap (gr. I) in June -- before getting back to the winner's circle at Del Mar after taking the Adoration Stakes by a half-length Sept. 7. In her only start since, Briecat faded to seventh after leading to mid-stretch in Oak Tree's Lady's Secret Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita Oct. 10.
Briecat, doesn't have to have the lead in order to win -- she waited effectively in the Adoration before taking over in the final furlong -- but she usually likes to be in front. It appears, though, that she could have some company on the front end in this year's Bayakoa, with rivals Czechers, Lucky Copy, and Zardana all capable of carrying their speed a mile or longer.
To be ridden by regular pilot Martin Garcia, Briecat will add blinkers and carry 116 pounds from post 10.
The Neil Drysdale trainee Cat by the Tale finished up nicely in Oak Tree's Las Palmas to be third, just 1 1/4 lengths behind the victorious Tuscan Evening. The 4-year-old Tale of the Cat filly has not been worse than third in five U.S. starts for owner Raymond Keogh, including two victories. She won a top-level allowance over Santa Anita's Pro-Ride by a neck prior to the Las Palmas.
Late-running Silver Swallow stretches out again for Bruce Headley following a sixth-place finish at 41-1 in the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I) Nov. 6. She ran second in Hollywood's seven-furlong A Gleam Handicap (gr. II) in her previous start July 18. The 5-year-old daughter of Alphabet Soup doesn't win often, but she is 2-4-1 in seven starts at Hollywood.
Lucky Copy, one of two entered by Todd Pletcher, showed a liking for synthetic tracks when she scored an off-the-turf allowance win by 8 1/2 lengths over four rivals at Keeneland Oct. 15. A stakes winner on turf last year at Arlington Park, Werthheimer and Frere's 4-year-old Unbridled's Song filly has raced just four times this year.
Pletcher also entered Michael Tabor's Floating Heart, the only 3-year-old in the field. The daughter of Giant's Causeway , to carry 112 pounds, comes in off back-to-back allowance wins in Kentucky and makes her stakes debut here.
Czechers, trained by Mark Glatt for Allen and Susan Branch, went gate to wire in Turf Paradise's Queen of the Green Handicap on turf Oct. 24 and used a similar style to score in a dirt stake at the Phoenix track last December.
The 5-year-old Zardana won a minor stake on turf at Oak Tree in October before weakening to seventh in the Las Palmas.
Former Bobby Frankel assistant Humberto Ascanio won the Citation (gr. IT) Nov. 27 for owner Patricia Bozano with the outsider Fluke and will attempt to do it again with Bozano's Brazilian-bred Eissoai. The 5-year-old mare has not been out since running third to Leamington in the Voo Doo Dancer on turf at Saratoga Sept. 4.
Completing the field are 4-year-olds Made for Magic, who steps up here, and Smooth Performer, who ran second in the Hollywood Oaks (gr. I) last year. Most recently, Smooth Performer posted back-to-back runner-up finishes in state-bred handicaps for trainer Clifford Sise Jr.
$150,000 Bayakoa Handicap (gr. II, Race 8, 4:05 p.m.) Fillies & mares 3 & Up, 1 1/16 Miles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Czechers (KY), D Sorenson, 114, M Glatt
2. Zardana (BRZ), V Espinoza, 115, J A Shirreffs
3. Silver Swallow (FL), M E Smith, 114, B Headley
4. Cat by the Tale (KY), J Rosario, 114, N D Drysdale
5. Eissoai (BRZ), G F Almeida, 113, H Ascanio
6. Floating Heart (KY), J Talamo, 112, T A Pletcher
7. Teamgeist (ARG), A O Solis, 117, K G McPeek
8. Smooth Performer (CA), M A Pedroza, 114, C W Sise, Jr.
9. Made for Magic (KY), O A Berrio, 114, A C Avila
10. Briecat (FL), M Garcia, 116, V Cerin
11. Lucky Copy (KY), R Bejarano, 116, T A Pletcher
Blinkers On: Eissoai, Briecat