Trainer John Sadler pulled a switch when he entered Switch in the $250,000 Lady's Secret Stakes Presented by TVG (gr. I). But two-time champion Zenyatta stands alone as she goes for her 19th consecutive win over her home track at Oak Tree's Hollywood Park meet Oct. 2.
With a small field likely, Sadler said during a national press conference Sept. 28 that he was considering keeping his grade II-winning 3-year-old filly home for the 1 1/16-mile Lady's Secret rather than ship to Hoosier Park for the Indiana Oaks (gr. II) on the same day. And that's exactly what he did.
Switch is one of five rivals signed on to face Zenyatta, who is going for her third consecutive three-peat in the Lady's Secret following wins in the Vanity Handicap (gr. I) and the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (gr. I) in her most recent starts.
The Lady's Secret, set as the seventh on the program with a 4:15 p.m.( PDT) post, is one of four grade I stakes on the Oak Tree card Saturday. All are designated as "Win and You're In" events for the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs. The Lady's Secret carries an automatic berth in the Nov. 5 Ladies' Classic (gr. I). Whether or not Zenyatta wins it, she is expected to pass that race for the chance to defend her title in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) the following day.
Owned by Jerry and Ann Moss and trained by John Shirreffs, the 6-year-old Zenyatta is seeking her eighth win over the Cushion Track at Hollywood, where she has been stabled throughout her racing career. The daughter of Street Cry will be prohibitively favored to do so, though she'll have to face the underrated Rinterval once again, as well as the new shooter Switch. Rinterval missed by a neck to the superstar mare in a front-running effort in the Clement Hirsch Aug. 7 at Del Mar.
In addition to her wins in the Vanity and Hirsch this year, Zenyatta started the season by capturing the Santa Margarita Handicap (gr. I) and Apple Blossom Invitational (gr. I). She has 12 grade I wins in her career, but there is concern that the level of competition she has faced this season may not have her primed for a top effort at Churchill. She has not faced a grade I winner all year and she won't in the Lady's Secret, either.
"Don't worry about Zenyatta, trust me," said her jockey, Mike Smith. "She is very aggressive. Right now she is training probably as well if not better than last year going into the Classic."
Smith said all Zenyatta's connections can do is pick a route to the Breeders' Cup. The rest is out of their hands.
"It's just whoever shows up," he said. "If they don't come, they don't come, (there's) nothing we can do as far as racing against grade I horses. I know all of our races she has come out of them in great shape and she seems to be moving forward, and that is all you can ask going into the Breeder's Cup. So let's get through this week and hopefully we continue to go forward and I'll think she'll be ready."
A victory would tie Zenyatta with Peppers Pride, the mare who retired undefeated against New Mexico-bred competition in 2008, for the modern-day record for consecutive wins. Zenyatta, who is 10-for-10 at the 1 1/16-mile distance, has earned $6,254,580 in her career.
C R K Stable's Switch, who will be facing older horses for the first time, has won three of her four starts over the Cushion Track and was second in her only loss. Among her wins was the Hollywood Oaks (gr. II), in which she defeated Blind Luck, the leading 3-year-old filly in the nation, by 1 1/4 lengths at the Lady's Secret distance June 6. There were just five entrants in that race and Switch, ridden by Martin Garcia, was able to get first run on the late-running Blind Luck and built an insurmountable lead in the final furlong.
In her most recent start, Switch posted a 3 1/4-length win in the one-mile Torrey Pines Stakes Sept. 5 at Del Mar. The daughter of Quiet American will be ridden for the first time by Alonso Quinonez and they will break from the rail post, the same starting position Switch had in the Hollywood Oaks. Switch, as the only 3-year-old in the field, carries 120 pounds. The rest tote 123.
Rinterval has not been out since her narrow miss in the 1 1/16-mile Hirsch contested on Del Mar's Polytrack. She is one of two in the field entered by trainer Eric Reed for owner Jerry Jamgotchian. The 5-year-old Irish-bred mare dictated a soft pace at Del Mar and had something left when Zenyatta, making an earlier move than usual, swept past her in deep stretch. They battled to the wire, though Zenyatta seemed to have her foe's measure in the last strides. Rinterval lost by just a head to champion female sprinter Informed Decision at seven furlongs in the Chicago Handicap (gr. III) prior to the Hirsch.
Rafael Bejarano retains the mount for Reed, who also entered Jamgotchian's Satans Quick Chick, upset winner of the 2009 Raven Run Stakes (gr. II) at Keeneland last fall.
Also in the field are Zayat Stables' Moon de French, a gate-to-wire winner of Del Mar's one-mile Adoration Stakes Sept. 5, and Emmy Darling, claimed by Doug O'Neill for $62,500 out of her last race, a front-running victory over one mile at Del Mar Aug. 19. Emmy Darling was previously trained by Sadler and is now owned by Desperado Stable and partners.
$250,000 Lady's Secret Stakes (gr. I, Race 7, 4:15 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 3 & Up, 1 1/16 Miles (Synthetic)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Switch (KY), A Quinonez, 120, J W Sadler
2. Moon de French (FL), J Talamo, 123, B Baffert
3. Rinterval (IRE), R Bejarano, 123, E R Reed
4. Satans Quick Chick (KY), J Alvarado, 123, E R Reed
5. Zenyatta (KY), M E Smith, 123, J A Shirreffs
6. Emmy Darling (FL), P A Valenzuela, 123, D F O'Neill