Love and Pride, good enough to beat champion Royal Delta in her previous start, had little trouble dispatching her rivals in the $250,000 Zenyatta Stakes (gr. I), going gate to wire to win by 3 1/4 lengths at Santa Anita Park Sept. 29 (VIDEO).
Trained by Todd Pletcher for Green Hills Farm, the New York-based Love and Pride got a practice run over the track for the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic (gr. I) Nov. 2. That's when she'll likely be rematched with Royal Delta, smashing winner of the Beldame Invitational (gr. I) earlier in the day at Belmont Park. Any of the fillies and mares she faced in the Zenyatta will have their work cut out for them.
Sent off at odds of 4-1 with Martin Garcia aboard, Love and Pride ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.09 on a fast track for her second straight grade I victory. She won the Personal Ensign Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course Aug. 26, defeating Royal Delta by a half-length.
Another shipper, Joyful Victory, finished second in the Zenyatta, with 5-2 second choice Include Me Out third. Amani, the 2-1 favorite in the field of nine fillies and mares, finished fifth.
The Zenyatta is a Breeders' Cup Challenge race, earning Love and Pride a berth in the Ladies' Classic with entry fees paid.
Mike McCarthy, Pletcher's assistant, said he was happy to see that no one pressured Love and Pride after she went to the lead.
"This filly, when she gets a chance to settle into a rhythm, she's obviously able to finish off her races," he said. "I think you saw that today. Provided everything goes well, I believe this filly and the horse we run tomorrow (Turbo Compressor in the John Henry) will stick around (Santa Anita for the Breeders' Cup)."
The Zenyatta, run a few hours after a life-sized statue of the great mare was unveiled in the track's paddock gardens, was renamed this season by Santa Anita. It was previously known as the Lady's Secret.
Bred by Stud TNT in Kentucky, Love and Pride is a 4-year-old daughter of A.P. Indy. The dark bay filly is out of the graded stakes-placed Storm Cat mare Ile de France. Love and Pride won for the fourth time in eight starts with two seconds in her breakout season.
Breaking from post 7, Love and Pride sped to the front out of the gate over Via Villaggio and Joyful Victory and angled to the inside. She controlled the pace while clipping off moderate fractions of :23.98, :48.47, and 1:12.58. Love and Pride picked up the pace early on the far turn, serving notice she was going to be tough to run down.
Joyful Victory, pinned along the inside, forced her way out under Rosie Napravnik while in tight quarters with Via Villaggio leaving the final turn to give chase. But it was in vain as Love and Pride, taking a 2 1/2-length advantage at mid-stretch, continued powerfully to the wire under steady handling from Garcia.
"I let her break, sat, then when it was time to go she just finished the job," Garcia said. "I'm very lucky to ride this beautiful horse and I will pray to see if I can stay with her (in the Ladies' Classic)."
Shipping in from Kentucky for trainer Larry Jones, Joyful Victory edged Include Me Out and Joe Talamo for second by half a length. Via Villaggio was beaten by a nose for third. Martin Pedroza, the rider of Via Villaggio, claimed foul against Joyful Victory but it was disallowed by stewards.
Include Me Out, losing for just the second time in six starts this season, has already qualified for the Ladies' Classic with her victory in the Clement L. Hirsch (gr. I) at Del Mar Aug. 4.
"You just can't close on this track the way it is," complained Ron Ellis, trainer of Include Me Out. "Speed's holding, and they didn't go very fast. But it was good. We'll do better next time (in the Breeders' Cup). It's just the way the track is now. Unless you're on the lead, you can't win."
Love and Pride improved her record to 7-2-4 in 16 races with earnings of $925,760.
Carrying co-high weight of 124 pounds, she paid $10.20, $5.20, and $4 as the third choice. Grade II winner Joyful Victory, coming off a runner-up effort in the Gardenia Stakes (gr. III) at Ellis Park Aug. 11, returned $8.20 and $5. The exacta was worth $70. The show price on Include Me Out was $2.60 to show.
Via Villaggio was followed by Amani, Star Billing, Switch, Love Theway Youare, and Miss Mittagong.