Zenyatta, who climaxed a brilliant career with an exciting victory in the $5-million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park Saturday, continued to dominate backstretch conversation Thursday as Hollywood Park prepared to open its 27-date Autumn Meet Friday night.
“Her popularity is overwhelming,” said trainer John Shirreffs as he followed the 5-year-old mare to his barn after she jogged twice around the adjacent training track under exercise rider Steve Willard.
“She has great fans,” added Shirreffs of the outpouring of support for the mare — both at the track Saturday and via letters, phone calls and messages since — after her 14th straight victory during an unbeaten career.
“All I know is that she performed unbelievably on a great day,” said Shirreffs. “She took center stage and did her thing.”
Owners Jerry and Ann Moss will have to select a stallion before the mare is shipped out for the 2010 breeding season. “I have to exercise her, because if I didn’t, she would be too difficult to walk,” explained Shirreffs.
One stable visitor in Barn 55 South congratulating Shirreffs was retired Hall of Fame jockey Eddie Delahoussaye. “She’s just something special, and the way she beat the boys was very impressive,” said Delahoussaye.
Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg was even more complimentary. “If they don’t give her Horse of the Year after that race, they might as well stop giving the award,” said Van Berg. “I’ve never seen one like her.”
While Shirreffs prepared for the departure of the mare he calls the queen of his stable, he said that the overshadowed star he calls the princess — Ladies Classic winner Life Is Sweet — will race again next year. “Marty (owner-breeder Marty Wygod) indicated she would stay in training,” said Shirreffs of the 4-year-old filly.
Meanwhile Shirreffs is ready for opening night at Hollywood Park with another filly to be ridden by Mike Smith for the Mosses. Theodora, a 4-year-old filly, will break from the outside in a field of six in the fifth race, a $46,000 allowance test for fillies and mares at one mile on turf.
While Zenyatta is retiring with $5,474,580 in earnings, the venerable Lava Man has returned to training here with trainer Doug O’Neill in an effort to add to his $5,268,706 bankroll.
Lava Man, an 8-year-old gelding who was retired in the autumn of 2008, made a remarkable recovery through stem-cell therapy to his ankles and returned to his training base here in September.
Lava Man recorded his sixth work since the return Wednesday — Veterans Day appropriately for the grizzled veteran — covering six furlongs in 1:14 under exercise rider Tony Romero.
“He finished up good in that work and is doing great,” said O’Neill Thursday. “Dr. (Doug) Herthel, who did some of the stem-cell work at Alamo Pintado (in Los Olivos), was down to take a look at him.”
O’Neill hopes Lava Man starts during this meet. “I’m not sure exactly where he’s going to run,” added the trainer. “Something going two turns on either the main track or turf during the next few weeks.”
Lava Man, a California-bred owned by STD Racing and Jason Wood, made his last start at Del Mar in July, 2008, and finished sixth in the Eddie Read Handicap. He won the Hollywood Gold Cup for a third successive time in 2007, equaling the feat of Native Diver from 1965-67. Could an attempt at a record fourth be on the horizon in 2010?
O’Neill, leading trainer at this meet last year and the Spring/Summer Meet this year, hopes to get off to a fast start with several entrants this weekend.
The lineup includes Enriched, a 4-year-old half-brother to Lava Man, who drew post eight in a field of nine in the $75,000-added On Trust Handicap for California-breds at 7 1/2 furlongs Saturday.
“He’s very consistent — four-for-nine,” said O’Neill of the gelding who will be making his first start in his barn since being claimed for $32,000 out of a race he won at Santa Anita on Nov. 1.
Ventura, a multiple Grade I stakes winner who finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint Friday at Santa Anita, will return in the $300,000 Matriarch on Nov. 28.
Humberto Ascanio, assistant to trainer Bobby Frankel, watched the 5-year-old mare gallop here Thursday in preparation for the Grade I test for fillies and mares at one mile on turf. Frankel has won the race a record eight times, all during the past 12 editions.
Ventura, a Juddmonte Farms homebred scheduled to join the broodmare ranks next year, has won nine of 20 races and earned more than $2.4 million. A daughter of Chester House, she beat males in the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile in September and also scored Grade I victories in the 2009 Santa Monica Handicap at Santa Anita and the 2008 Just A Game Stakes at Belmont. In her only previous outing on the Hollywood Park turf, she finished second in the 2008 CashCall Mile, a nose behind Diamond Diva.
Ascanio said the stable has been bolstered by the addition of two other turf fillies: the Juddmonte 3-year-old Dreamt, a listed stakes winner from France, and Treat Gently from New York.
FINISH LINES: Cat by the Tale, third-place finisher in the Las Palmas Handicap at Santa Anita Friday, worked three furlongs on turf in 38.20 seconds Thursday for a possible return in The Matriarch…Trainer Christophe Clement has nine horses stabled here with assistant Nicholas Bachalard, including Classic runner-up Gio Ponti and Rutherienne, seventh-place finisher in the Filly & Mare Turf. Rutherienne, a Grade I winner, could make her next start in The Matriarch or be shipped to Hong Kong for a race Dec. 13…Internationally renowned trainer Dermot Weld shipped Firey Red from Ireland and entered her in the fifth race Friday, an allowance for females at one mile on turf. “She got here 10 days ago at Santa Anita and came over Tuesday,” said assistant Jeff Byrne, who galloped the 3-year-old Moyglare Farm homebred Thursday. “She’s a very consistent filly, and Dermot is happy with the way she has been doing. She’s in against older, but we’ll see.” A good performance could merit consideration to supplement to The Matriarch…Trainer Ron Ellis said Hollywood Gold Cup winner Rail Trip is enjoying a vacation here. “He’s getting geared up for next year,” he said…Trainer Bob Baffert, who has won the Hollywood Prevue Stakes a record four times, nominated five 2-year-old colts to the $100,000, Grade III race at seven furlongs Nov. 21. Baffert will choose among Conveyance, Indian Firewater, Macias, Marcello and The Program in quest of number five…*Joel Rosario*, leading rider at the spring/summer meet, has taken a call on Bickersons in the $100,000 Moccasin Stakes for 2-year-old fillies Nov. 22. The Canadian-bred filly faded to 10th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Saturday after finishing third in the Oak Leaf Stakes… Trainer Kathy Walsh is confident 5-year-old mare Bootleg Annie will be able to transfer her winning turf form to Cushion Track in the $75,000-added Cat’s Cradle Handicap for California-bred fillies and mares at 7 ½ furlongs Sunday. “She trains well on it,” Walsh said of the rags-to-riches story who has won 15 of 30 starts and earned $445,358…Millionaire 4-year-old filly Magical Fantasy, winner of the Grade I Gamely Stakes here this summer, sold for $1.8 million to Shadai Farm in Japan Tuesday at the Fasig-Tipton sale in Kentucky…The Hollywood Park stable kitchen menu offers omelets named after stable stars. The Zenyatta is three eggs and fresh diced spinach topped with jack cheese. The Lava Man is three eggs and fresh diced ham topped with melted cheese. Other selections are the Princess Rooney, Best Pal, Gentleman and Georgie Boy.
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