South African champion Ipi Tombe moved closer to her U.S. racing debut with a sizzling work on Thursday over the Churchill Downs turf course, where she could make her American debut.The 5-year-old Zimbabwe-bred mare, now trained by Elliott Walden, breezed five furlongs around the "dogs" in 1:00.60. Jockey Pat Day was in the saddle for the breeze, which ranked as the fastest among eight at the distance over a turf course that was rated "firm."Ipi Tombe, who is owned by a partnership that includes Team Valor, WinStar Farm and Sunmark Partners, worked in the company of the 4-year-old Alienated, a stakes-placed WinStar Farm stablemate. Day restrained an eager Ipi Tombe as the horses broke off together, but she soon settled into a spot a couple of lengths off of her workmate as the duo headed into the turn. She accelerated quickly in the stretch, easily blew past Alienated and galloped out very strongly under Day, who was also in the irons for her a similar move on June 5."We broke off head-and-head and Elliott wants me to take her back and put her in behind horses," said Day. "Last time she was a little bit more willing to do that than today, but she did come back to me and she eased around the turn nicely, and then finished up running. She really came home. She's got another gear when you set her down."Day will ride Ipi Tombe when she makes her U.S. racing debut and said the opportunity to sit on the South African import has provided some valuable experience."It's me learning her more than us trying to teach her anything," he said. "She's obviously got the winning thing down pretty pat. So we're just trying to learn her and learn how to get along with her and enable her to be her best.""The last thing I want to try to do is reinvent the wheel and have her be on the lead or something when she's not accustomed to it," said Walden. "We want to just try to simulate, as much as we can, her previous experiences because she's been very successful."
Ipi Tombe has won 11 of 13 races and earned $1,427,871. Her most recent victory was a romp over males in the Dubai Duty Free at Nad Al Sheba on March 29. She arrived at Walden's barn in early April and her trainer believes she is ready for her U.S. debut. He said the $150,000-added Locust Grove (gr. III) at Churchill Downs on June 28 remains on the short list of races in which that debut could come."She's had enough time to acclimate and I think she's ready to run," he said. "Our first preference would probably be the Locust Grove, but we're still keeping our options open until we see who's going to run and that type of thing."Walden said the $250,000 New York Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont Park on July 4 and the $150,000 All Along Breeders' Cup (gr. III) on July 12 at Colonial Downs also are being considered for Ipi Tombe's first race in North America.