Trainer John Shirreffs sat calmly in his stable office in Barn 55 South during a pleasant sunny Thursday morning before entering Zardana in defense of her crown in the $150,000 Bayakoa Handicap Sunday and hosting more than 50 guests admiring and photographing Zenyatta before her farewell ceremony here, also on Sunday.
Adoring fans from as far away as West Virginia and Missouri watched every move Zenyatta made outside the barn as she was given a bath by groom Mario Espinoza before grazing on her favorite lawn.
“She’s going to a better place,” said exercise rider Steve Willard to the crowd. “She’s going to be seven years old; time for her to be a mama.”
Zenyatta, two-time champion mare, will be flown to Lexington, Ky., Monday to join the broodmare ranks at Lane’s End Farm.
Zenyatta exercised on the training track under Willard earlier in the morning. “She jogged and galloped about a mile and a half,” said Willard. “About three-quarters of each. We just got to give her some exercise to keep her legs stretched out.”
Zenyatta, who won 19 of 20 races and earned more than $7-million to become the glamour queen of racing, will be honored between the sixth and seventh races with her connections: Shirreffs, Willard, Espinoza, jockey Mike Smith, owners Jerry and Ann Moss, racing manager Dottie Ingordo-Shirreffs and hot walker Carmen Zamora.
“All I’m thinking is how she is going to eat tonight and whether she has a full bucket of water,” said Shirreffs of his thoughts during his final days with the superstar mare after nearly four years of seeing her in stall 85.
“There are so many great memories,” said Shirreffs. “When she came here as a 2-year-old, she looked a lot like the others. But she just continued to grow.
“She’s such a physical presence,” continued Shirreffs. “There is nothing about her that is not extraordinary. Yet she’s so refined, not coarse.
“Mario will accompany her to Kentucky and stay a couple of days to discuss her habits and idiosyncrasies,” added Shirreffs. “After she gets off the plane in Lexington, she will first go to Keeneland for a public viewing to avoid a media frenzy at the farm.”
Overshadowed in the Zenyatta adulation was Zardana, another 6-year-old mare attempting to become the fourth horse to become a two-time winner of the Bayakoa, a Grade II test for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on Cushion Track.
Zardana drew post three in a field of eight in the Bayakoa, which will go as the eighth race.
Shirreffs said that Zardana was coming up to the race as good as last year, when she rallied from just off the pace to win by 1 ¼ lengths in 1:42.24.
Manistique, Starrer and Star Parade are the two-time winners of the race.
She is the starting highweight under 118 pounds, three more than she carried last year.
Shirreffs has won the Bayakoa a record five times while jockey Victor Espinoza seeks a record-equaling fifth victory in the race.
Washington Bridge, winner of the Life Is Sweet Stakes in her last race, blew out four furlongs in 49.40 seconds Thursday for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.
SPURRIERS HOPE TO SPRING UPSETS SATURDAY
Spurrier, a 5-year-old horse seeking his first stakes victory, is entered in the $100,000 Native Diver Handicap Saturday, the same afternoon as his namesake, University of South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier, will lead the Gamecocks against favored Auburn in the Southeast Conference championship game.
Spurrier, who was purchased privately by Arnold Zetcher from Peachtree Stable at the end of 2008 and transferred to the stable of Bob Baffert, seeks to give the Hall of Fame trainer his second victory in the Grade III stake at 1 1/8 miles on Cushion Track. He won previously with General Challenge in 1999.
Spurrier has won five of 24 career starts but has performed best on this surface with three firsts and one second in five outings.
Baffert has had a knack of winning stakes with thoroughbreds named for outstanding college coaches. He previously trained champion Midnight Lute and Da Stoops, both named for University of Arizona coaches.
Baffert’s next star may be named after a basketball superstar. The white-haired trainer said that Alcindor, a late-developing 3-year-old colt, had earned a start in the $250,000 Grade I Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita December 26 after a smashing seven-furlong allowance win here Sunday, his second triumph in as many starts.
Alcindor, a towering colt, hopes to stand as tall in his division as Lew Alcindor, the seven-foot basketball Hall of Famer who played under that name in high school and college before changing it to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the NBA.
Baffert also plans to send out contenders in 2-year-old championships here this month: Sharp Cat Stakes winner May Day Rose in the $250,000 Grade I Starlet for fillies on December 11 and Awesome Patriot in the $750,000 Grade I CashCall Futurity on December 18.
Baffert added another promising 2-year-old to his barn this week in Clearance Clarence after Summit Stable purchased a majority interest in the colt.
Other probable Starlet starters include Moccasin Stakes winner Turbulent Descent, Darley Debutante winner Tell a Kelly, Eastern invader Nina Fever and True Way of Grace.
Other probable Futurity starters include Hollywood Prevue Stakes winner Premier Pegasus, Real Quiet and Generous Stakes winner Comma to the Top, Hollywood Juvenile Championship and Del Mar Futurity winner J.P.’s Gusto, Industry Leader and Clubhouse Ride.
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