Life goes on in Barn 55 South at Hollywood Park but it will never be quite the same since the retirement of Zenyatta last December.
The superstar mare, who won 19 of 20 starts and was named Horse of the Year before joining the broodmare ranks in Kentucky, spent more than four years here with trainer John Shirreffs.
In honor of Zenyatta, Stall 85 where she resided, has been converted into a shrine.
Assistant trainer Michelle Jensen walked to the entrance Thursday and said, “This stall is her sanctuary.” A bed of straw remained, flanked by three walls covered with photos, paintings and other memorabilia of the mare.
One entire wall is draped by a drawing from a grade-school class that served as a birthday card April 1 with the words “Happy Birthday, Zenyatta.”
“Seven women from here flew out for her birthday,” said Jensen of the distaff septet that included her, co-owner Ann Moss, racing manager Dottie Ingordo Shirreffs, veterinarian Dawn Hunkin and exercise rider Isabelle Bourez.
A stream of daily visitors that flocked to see the obliging mare last year as though on a mission to the Holy Grail has stopped, although fan interest remains high. “We had a lot of messages on her birthday,” said Jensen.
Still, everybody at the barn misses the imposing mare and her supersized personality. “It’s like when you have a family member leave,” said Jensen. “There’s that hole like somebody’s missing.
“We keep tabs on her, but it’s not like we say ‘good morning’ to her, which we did. I got to touch and hug her. She’s definitely missed.”
Mario Espinoza, Zenyatta’s groom, echoed Jensen’s sentiments. “Oh, yes,” he said with a grimace when asked if he missed the mare. Espinoza is kept busy with four other Shirreffs trainees: Grade I stakes winner Harmonious, Makoma, Violet Rose and Gelila.
Carmen Zamora, Zenyatta’s hot walker and Espinoza’s wife, continues to help her husband. Steve Willard, Zenyatta’s regular exercise rider, plays a new role as assistant and pony rider, assuming some of the duties of retired pony rider Freddy Wilson.
Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella entered both Blue Maiden and Miss Pleasant in the $100,000 Grade III Wilshire Handicap, a wide-open race for fillies and mares at one mile on turf Saturday.
“I’m not sure how scared I’ve got ’em,” said Mandella with his typical dry wit as he seeks a fourth win in the race, which would tie leader Bobby Frankel.
“Blue Maiden is coming into good form,” said Mandella of the English-bred 4-year-old filly. “She’s got a couple races in her this year, she’s getting better, and she’s got some talent.”
Blue Maiden, who began her career in England, scored her only United States victory here in October on the Hollywood Park turf.
Miss Pleasant, a 5-year-old daughter of Pleasantly Perfect, will make her first start since September. “I tried to get a race on the main track for her and couldn’t,” explained Mandella. “She’s doing well now and is ready to run.”
Blue Maiden will leave from post two under Martin Garcia and Miss Pleasant from post five with Chantal Sutherland in a field of 11.
Mandella first won this race with Now Pending in 1977 and repeated with Reluctant Guest in 1990 and Spring Star in 2004.
“Now Pending with Rudy Campas beat Swingtime in a big upset,” recalled Mandella of his first Wilshire win 34 years ago when he was just getting established.
“Reluctant Guest and Beautiful Melody ran one-two (in 1990) and came back to dead heat (for first) in the Beverly Hills Handicap,” said Mandella.
Jockey Tyler Baze, back in the saddle for the first time in nine months, was greeted by handshakes and hugs as he toured the Hollywood Park stable area Thursday morning.
“Back to the old grind,” said the 28-year-old rider with a laugh, sporting a new beard. “It’s been too long.”
Baze suffered facial injuries aboard his mount (Night Justice) approaching the starting gate at Del Mar July 24. After a long series of procedures and a lingering vision problem, Baze worked horses the past month at Turf Paradise, rode a pair of races there Monday and Wednesday and was named on three mounts today at Hollywood Park.
“I had the last surgery on my eye at the end of January,” said the Eclipse Award-winning apprentice. “They had to lift up my eye and put a different plate in. Scar tissue had kind of hung there.
“I’ve got to have one more surgery on my mouth,” said Baze, not expecting that to hinder his riding. “I’m ready to rock and roll.’’ Baze said he will ride at 114 or 115 pounds.
At least five members of the local jockey colony have taken calls for the Kentucky Derby May 7 at Churchill Downs.
Those committed are: Victor Espinoza on Santa Anita Derby winner Midnight Interlude, Patrick Valenzuela on CashCall Futurity winner and Santa Anita Derby runner-up Comma to the Top, Joel Rosario on Blue Grass Stakes winner Brilliant Speed, Corey Nakatani on Arkansas Derby runner-up Nehro, and Hall of Famer Mike Smith on Twinspired.
Joe Ferrer, agent for Rafael Bejarano, said he has a tentative call on Robert Lewis Stakes winner Anthony’s Cross if he gets in. Anthony’s Cross currently ranks 21st on the list of probables in order of earnings and needs one in front of him to defect in the field limited to 20.
Alex Procel Crowley, agent for Christian Santiago Reyes, was not happy to learn that his rider had been replaced aboard Twice the Appeal Wednesday by Calvin Borel, who has won the Derby the last three years.
Crowley was as upset about the timing as the decision. “Why did they wait so long?” asked an irate Crowley, who will remain here to ride instead. “I gave up five or six calls here Derby Day.”
FINISH LINES—With so many regular riders gone to Kentucky May 7, Russell Baze and Aaron Gryder are scheduled to ride at Hollywood Park to bolster the ranks…Hall of Fame trainer Neil Drysdale said that Liberian Freighter, winner of the Inglewood Handicap Sunday, could return in the Grade II American Handicap May 28 and the Grade I Shoemaker Mile July 2, both at one mile on turf…G Ten and Tiz Gianni, a pair of 3-year-olds by Giacomo, are nearing their debuts for trainer John Shirreffs …The Shirreffs-trained Mr. Commons, third-place finisher in the Santa Anita Derby, worked seven furlongs in 1:25.20 for a possible start in the Preakness Stakes on May 21.
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