Zabenz is believed to be the first horse ever to be shipped directly from Australia to Saratoga to win a race.
"It hasn't happened," said winning rider Craig Thornton, a New Zealander, who rode in the U.S. for eight seasons. "I don't think anybody has ever tried it."
Wearing blinkers for the first time, Zabenz won the Turf Writers Cup by 7 1/4 lengths.
Trainer Robert Smerdon said Friday that the New Zealand-bred Zabenz will spend the next week at a farm in the Saratoga Springs area. He said the 5-year-old gelding may be shipped to Belmont Park or to a stable at Far Hills, N.J., site of the Breeders' Cup on Oct. 19.
Smerdon had considered running Zabenz in a race at Arlington Park in September, but decided a bit of a rest was in order. The Turf Writers Cup was competing in his second race in a week. Earlier in August, Zabenz spent approximately 30 hours in transit from Australia to the quarantine center in Newburgh, N.Y.
"He's come a long way. He's still a first-season jumper," Smerdon said. "We thought this way it gives him a chance to have a breather and maybe run him on the flat a couple of times to keep his fitness and then just take him up to the race in Far Hills."
Since Zabenz is not Breeders' Cup nominated, he is not
eligible for any of the $75,000 added by the Breeders' Cup to the purse of $175,000.
Zabenz was an undistinguished flat runner in New Zealand and Australia before Smerdon tried him over the jumps in June. Then, after three decisive victories, British businessman Michael Watt, who had purchased him, asked Smerdon to take him to the U.S.
"We started to talk ourselves into it," he said. "We thought the blinkers were a positive and the jockey was absolutely certain that he would benefit from them."
Smerdon acknowledged that Zabenz had a substantial edge
carrying 146 pounds, 14 less than heavyily-favored It's a Giggle, the defending champion.
"To me, It's a Giggle had a huge job to overcome," Smerdon said.
Racing wide most of the way under Gus Brown over the soggy course, It's a Giggle tired and did not finish the race.Opinions Count for More, McPeek Notes Thanks to victories in major races this year by Sarava, Repent, Harlan's Holiday and Take Charge Lady, trainer Kenny McPeek is finding that his clients are much more interested in his opinions at yearling auctions.
Prior to this year, the most McPeek had spent on a yearling was the $230,000 it took Feye Bach to buy Repent in 2000. He has exceeded that figure four times this summer.
"I've been going to the sales for a long time because I've always felt like if I waited for somebody to send me a really nice horse then I was going to starve to death," McPeek said.
"So I used to pick up the phone and say, I've got a really nice horse here that I like at the sale. What do you think? They'd give me, `Well, I don't know. I think I'm going wait. I don't think I want to spend the money right now. I didn't budget for this year. Maybe we'll get something next year.'
"Now, I call them and they say, `Do you really like him? What do you think he'll cost? Yeah, I think I will take him.'
"I'm getting a lot more yesses on the ends of those phone calls."
The most expensive of the 20 yearlings McPeek has purchased this year is an Exploit filly who cost $400,000. For Bach, he went to $335,000 for a Stormin Fever filly and $330,000 for an Unbridled's Song colt.Sky Mesa Building Foundation Trainer John Ward considers the Hopeful (gr.I) Saturday another step on the road for Sky Mesa. The Pulpit colt owned by John Oxley was one of the most impressive maiden victors of the meeting, winning his debut by 7 3/4 lengths on Aug. 3.
Like the other eight 2-year-olds in Ward's barn, Sky Mesa got sick after his maiden race. So the seven-furlong Hopeful is his second career start.
"I think he is good and healthy. Because he lost a little bit of time, he probably lost a little bit of
edge," Ward said. "It's building block No. 2 in a four-step series ... the fourth step being the Breeders' Cup.
"We're looking for a very strong finish. If he does that he's set himself up for the next race around two turns."
That race will be the $400,000 Lane's End Breeders' Futurity (gr.II), a two-turn race at Keeneland on Oct. 5, instead of the one-turn Champagne (gr.I) at Belmont Park.
"Why not take the second turn?" Ward said. "The horses that come the other path are still going to face the question going into the Breeders' Cup – have they run that second turn?"Sickness, minor injuries and rain combined to limit Ward's starters at the meet.
Ward said that Snow Dance, scratched from the Ballston Spa Aug. 24 when it was taken off the grass, will run next in the WinStar Galaxy (gr.II) at Keeneland on Oct. 5.
Bold Truth, third in the Amsterdam (gr.II) on Aug. 3, is headed to the Kentucky Cup Sprint (gr.III) at Turfway Park on Sept. 14. Hero's Tribute is being considered for the Kentucky Cup Classic (gr.II).
Ward said that an ankle injury suffered during the running of the Personal Ensign will keep Forest Secrets out of action for the remainder of the year.
Carson Hollow Bucking Odds
Carson Hollow, the 3-year-old New York-bred filly beaten a nose in the Test (gr.I), remains on course toward the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr.I) on Oct. 26, trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. said.
The winner of the Prioress (gr. I) at Belmont Park has been off since her heartpounding loss to You on the first weekend of the Saratoga meet. It was Carson Hollow's first loss in five career starts.
"She's doing good," Dutrow Jr. said. "She's at Aqueduct. If everything goes good, we'll run her in the Floral Park (gr.III) at Belmont . We'll have to see what's happening after that. Everybody would like to run in the big race, but we'll just have to see how things go."
Dutrow said Carson Hollow did show the effects of the long stretch drive with You.
"Just for a couple of days. Then she came right back," he said. "She was a little bit down for a couple of days. But she's OK. she's fine. The race didn't take anything out of her, that I know of."
Dutrow, the leading trainer in New York in 2001, heads into the final three days of the Saratoga season with a record of 8-5-2 from 44 starters.
"The filly made the meet go for us," he said. "It was such a big race. We've never had anything like that before. So we've had a good meet."