Zagora kicks best late in Filly & Mare Turf

One year ago, owner Martin S. Schwartz and trainer Chad Brown endured the bitter disappointment of watching their 9-5 favorite Stacelita trudge home 10th in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. But in Friday's $1,818,000 renewal of the Filly & Mare Turf at Santa Anita, they experienced a much happier reversal of fortune, courtesy of the consistently classy Zagora.

Under a perfectly-timed ride by Javier Castellano, Zagora swept past Marketing Mix and an unlucky 8-5 favorite The Fugue down the stretch. Sent off at an uncharacteristically high 9-1 off a second in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl Invitational, the five-year-old daughter of Green Tune rewarded her loyalists with $20.40, $7.80 and $5, and likely clinched a divisional Eclipse Award.

"She had everything go her way today," Brown said. "She got the (firm) turf she likes, she got a great trip, and she's been training great. I've never seen her look better health-wise. Everything came together for her today and it couldn't happen to a horse that deserved it more.

"I'm so pleased, especially for the Schwartzs for being terrific supporters. They gave me a great horse to train."

Zagora was parked in an ideal stalking spot just behind the front-running Star Billing, who carved out steady splits of :24 3/5, :48 3/5, 1:13 and 1:36 3/5. Marketing Mix took up a forward position and prompted the pace. English invader The Fugue was reserved farther back along the rail, buried in the slipstream of Zagora.

Turning for home, Zagora angled out for running room. William Buick aboard The Fugue stayed on the inside, only to find himself stuck in traffic. Star Billing was beginning to weaken, but she was blocking any path on the fence. Marketing Mix was striking the front, but not achieving enough separation for The Fugue to get daylight.

Meanwhile, as the favorite was sitting and suffering, Zagora had clear sailing on the outside. Producing her trademark turn of foot, the chestnut mowed down Marketing Mix by three-quarters of a length and zipped 1 1/4 firm-turf miles in 1:59 3/5.

"I had a beautiful trip," Castellano recapped. "I was just where I wanted to be behind the speed. Turning for home, I went to the outside and she gave me a good kick. It's a pleasure to a part of this. Chad gave me a great opportunity to ride her."

Marketing Mix stayed on resolutely for second by a half-length from The Fugue.

"I thought I was in a good spot all the way around," jockey Garrett Gomez said of his view from Marketing Mix. "At the three-eighths pole, the tempo quickened, and when Victor (Espinoza on Star Billing) went and I went with him. But then the two (Zagora), she just ran right by us."

Tom Proctor, the trainer of Marketing Mix, praised Zagora.

"The filly that won has been a good filly all year," Proctor said. "Take nothing away from her. Our filly ran good; the other filly just ran better.

"This is an exceptional filly, and we're proud of her," he added regarding Marketing Mix. "She will be going to Florida in a day or two to spend some time on the farm (Glen Hill) and she will be back in training next year."

The Fugue finished with interest once she had a sliver of room, but not enough to overtake Marketing Mix. Her connections were philosophical in defeat.

"I think she was very unlucky and it just wasn't her day," Buick said.

"She was a bit unlucky," her trainer John Gosden said. "She didn't have any room and William was sitting there with nowhere to go. It was until the last sixteenth that she got out, and she finished well. That's racing."

The French filly Ridasiyna rattled home from well off the pace for an eye-catching fourth.

"She needs pace and there wasn't any," said trainer Mikel Delzangles, who earlier had sent out Flotilla to upset the Juvenile Fillies Turf. "But she showed a good turn of foot."

Star local three-year-old Lady of Shamrock rallied from last to grab fifth, followed by I'm a Dreamer, Up, Star Billing, In Lingerie, Nahrain and Stormy Lucy. Nereid was an early withdrawal.

Lady of Shamrock's rider, Mike Smith, recounted his problematic passage.

"I had a really rough trip -- trouble out of the gate, and then more trouble at the three-eighths and the quarter-pole," the Hall of Famer said. "Despite all that, I thought she ran well."

Nahrain's connections were disappointed in her effort.

"We put on the blinkers and they fired her up," trainer Roger Varian said. "She raced over-keenly and without cover."

Frankie Dettori revealed that Nahrain wasn't on her best behavior before the race either.

"She was messing about in the paddock and hit the girl that was leading her up in the nose," the jockey said. "I think this was one race too many."

The French-bred Zagora was initially trained in her homeland, where she captured the Group 3 Prix Vanteaux and Group 3 Prix de Psyche and placed in the Group 3 Prix de la Nonette and Prix La Camargo. She made her American debut in the 2010 Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland, closing belatedly for second.

Subsequently transferred to Brown, Zagora reappeared in 2011 with a near-miss second in the Grade 3 Hillsborough. Next came a third in the Jenny Wiley (then a Grade 2), and a fast-closing second in the Grade 2 New York, before she scored a career high in the Grade 1 Diana. Unfortunately, Zagora was not able to build on that Grade 1 breakthrough for herself, and for her trainer. She was a non-threatening seventh in her follow-up in the Grade 2 Canadian at Woodbine, and headed to the sidelines.

Zagora began 2012 in razor-sharp fashion at Tampa Bay Downs, turning the Grade 3 Endeavour/Hillsborough double. She took another crack at the Jenny Wiley, now upgraded to Grade 1 status, but never had a realistic chance when held up off a risibly slow pace. A better-than-appears fifth that day, the chestnut rebounded with a more legitimate pace scenario in the Grade 3 Gallorette.

A splint issue kept her out of action for two months, and she returned with a flat third when trying to defend her title in the Diana. Zagora was much sharper next time in the Grade 2 Ballston Spa, where she blitzed to a new course record for 1 1/16 miles. Up in trip to 1 1/4 miles for the Flower Bowl, she moved a bit prematurely on the yielding turf, opened up, but was caught late by Nahrain.

Zagora comprehensively turned the tables in very different conditions in the Breeders' Cup, advancing her scorecard to 22-10-5-3, $2,368,577.

"She's been a model of consistency since she came into my barn," Brown said. "She's a very reliable horse in the mornings and afternoons, and she gave me my first Grade 1 win last year (in the Diana). She's a special horse to me."

Zagora is also a special horse for Schwartz, who now has a decision to make. He entered her in Monday's Fasig-Tipton November Sale, where she is cataloged as Hip No. 153. Will she keep her engagement in the auction ring?

"She is supposed to be on a plane 1:00 Sunday morning," Schwartz said. "We'll see. Maybe she'll be late for the plane."

Zagora was bred by E. Puerari and Oceanic Bloodstock in France and sold for $139,602 as an Arqana August yearling. The five-year-old is out of the unraced Mtoto mare Zaneton, who is also responsible for the stakes-placed Zanet. Zagora hails from the family of French highweight older sprinter Titus Livius and Group 2 German One Thousand Guineas heroine Briseida. Further back, her fifth dam is noted broodmare Mia Pola, ancestress of French classic winner and multiple champion Sulamani, dual classic victor Dream Well and Grade 1 diva Tuzla, among others.

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