With unheralded outsiders winning both the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park and the Blue Grass at Keeneland on Saturday, Zenyatta's dominating win – albeit against totally outclassed opposition – was a reminder that horses prove their class by running consistently over time.
It also was another notice that the legitimate contenders for the May 1 Kentucky Derby now can be tallied on the fingers of one hand, with a digit or two left over. After Eskendereya, Lookin At Lucky, Awesome Act and perhaps Sidney's Candy, no 3-year-old has shown any consistent talent.
At Oaklawn, Line of David sped to the lead from an outside post position in the Arkansas Derby, set a brisk pace and seemed ready to fade from contention turning for home when challenged by the favorites, Dublin and Super Saver.
However, the Lion Heart colt proved well named, rallying through the stretch to win by the narrowest of margins. Super Saver was second and Dublin third in a close finish. Line of David had won his two previous starts – a maiden event and a conditioned allowance, both on the Santa Anita turf – but was making his first stakes start and his first on real dirt.
Winning trainer John Sadler also handles Sidney's Candy, who won the Santa Anita Derby, leading from gate to wire. That led to the question: Who might go to the lead at Churchill Downs in the Run for the Roses.
"I'm going to think about it until tomorrow," Sadler said after the upset win. "We will sleep on this and of course see how he comes out and take things one step at a time."
Winning rider Jon Court said setting quick fractions isn't such a great idea in the Kentucky Derby, with an extra eighth of a mile to run. But he added the long run to the first turn at Churchill Downs means "you can usually settle a horse and get them to come back to you by the time you hit the first turn."
Both Dublin and Super Saver also are expected to continue on to Kentucky.
Ken McPeek, trainer of Noble's Promise, said his colt, who finished just behind Lookin At Lucky in his three previous starts, jumped at the start Saturday and lost all chance, finishing fifth. "We will look at him and see how he's doing" before deciding on the Kentucky Derby, McPeek said.
At Keeneland, Stately Victor rallied from far back in the back with a bold stretch move to capture the Blue Grass by 4 1/2 lengths over Paddy O'Prado. First Dude finished third while the favorites – Interactif, Pleasant Prince, Aikenite and Odysseus – struggled home at the rear of the field.
Stately Victor, a son of 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper, ran the 9 furlongs on the all-weather surface in 1:48.69 with Alan Garcia up and paid $82.20 to win.
"I've always been high on this horse," said winning trainer Mike Maker. "After a while, when a horse underachieves, you kind of forget about him. But I never quit believing in this horse."
Stately Victor's underachievements have been prodigious. After breaking his maiden on the second try, he had not finished better than fifth in five intervening starts. The Blue Grass was only his second stakes outing.
The $450,000 winner's share of the Blue Grass purse ensures Stately Victor a place in the Kentucky Derby starting gate and Garcia sounded like he's be ready to take that mount.
"I was very impressed with him," Garcia said after riding the colt for the first time.
While the Kentucky Derby preps were stunning because of their unpredictability, Friday's Apple Blossom at Oaklawn was impressive because of Zenyatta's consistent excellence.
With regular rider Mike Smith aboard, the 6-year-old Street Cry mare typically lagged well behind the leaders in the $500,000 event, effortlessly circled the field on the stretch turn and, on her own, pulled clear to win by 4 1/4 lengths. Taptam and Be Fair forever will feature their second- and third-place finishes on their resumes.
Zenyatta's 16th win equals the accomplishments of Citation and Cigar against major North American competition. Unlike those two, however, Zenyatta has compiled her record while remaining undefeated.
Owner Jerry Moss, noting that last year's Horse of the Year, Rachel Alexandra, failed to keep a date to meet Zenyatta in the Apple Blossom, indicated Zenyatta won't be ducking anyone during the rest of the year.
"We are going to plot our schedule," he said. "We like races that are a mile and an eighth. We like Grade I's. So we will plot our course and if Rachel Alexandra wants to join us, she's more than welcome. "But we will plot our schedule with the goal of getting to the Breeders' Cup."
Zenyatta, of course, won last year's Breeders' Cup Classic against a top international field which also lacked Rachel Alexandra.
In other weekend racing:
Kentucky Oaks preps
Touching Beauty circled the leaders three-wide at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Comely Stakes at Aqueduct, got the advantage with a furlong to run and held well to win by 1/2 length over Speightful Affair. C C's Pal finished third. Touching Beauty, a Kentucky-bred Tapit filly, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.90 with Mike Luzzi aboard for trainer James Jerkens.
Decelerator accelerated quickly to the lead in Saturday's $75,000 Instant Racing Stakes at Oaklawn Park, then survived repeated challenges to win by a neck. Vertical Vision just missed and Bell's Shoes was 1 length farther back in third. Decelerator, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Dehere, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.20 for jockey Terry Thompson. D. Wayne Lukas is the winning trainer.
Wasted Tears spoiled Forever Together's seasonal debut in Saturday's $200,000 Jenny Wiley. With Rajiv Maragh up, Wasted Tears led the field through measured fractions while Forever Together, third in last year's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf, bided her time. When jockey Julien Leparoux sent Forever Together after the leader in the stretch, she responded gamely but could not get by Wasted Tears, finishing second. Hot Cha Cha was third. "My filly always felt like she was going to give me a good response," Maragh said. "She cruised on the lead early and that made her have a lot left at the end." Leparoux said Forever Together "ran a very big race but I think she got a little tired at the end." Wasted Tears, a 5-year-old Najran mare, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:40.86.
Together Indy caught Congressional Page late in the stretch run to win Saturday's $250,000 Commonwealth by 1 length. Together Indy, a 4-year-old Not For Love colt, ran the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:22.34 for jockey Kent Desormeaux, who won the race for a second straight year. "I was working diligently to get him a path to let him stretch his legs," Desormeaux said. "I finally got it inside the three-sixteenths pole. He took dead aim at the leaders and won the race."
Silver Timber overtook Grand Adventure late in Saturday's $100,000 Shakertown and won by a neck over that rival, finishing 5 1/2 furlongs on the grass in 1:01.87. Moralist made the early pace and held on for third. "He's a good horse and anytime you have a good horse, you can get them to finish good," said winning rider Julien Leparoux. Silver Timber, a 7-year-old, New York-bred Prime Timber gelding, is trained by Chad Brown.
Dr. Zic got the lead in Friday's $300,000 Vinery Madison Stakes and jockey Kent Desormeaux nursed the 4-year-old Milwaukee Brew filly along to a 2 1/2-lengths upset win. Dubai Majesty snatched second with a burst in the stretch and the odds-on favorite, Informed Decision, ran evenly to finish third. Dr. Zic was clocked in 1:21.32 for the 7 furlongs over the all-weather track.
Fanny Freud cleared to the lead early in Thursday's $150,000 Beaumont Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and rolled home a 4 3/4-lengths winner. Chantilly Nayla was second with a late move and Diva Delite finished third. Fanny Freud, a New York-bred daughter of Freud, got 7 the "about" furlongs in 1:26.89 with Garrett Gomez up. "She did everything right. She put me in the right spot," Gomez said.
Payton d'Oro tracked the early leader, Distinctive Dixie, into the stretch run in Wedneday's $100,000 Bayakoa Stakes for fillies and mares, then wore down that rival to win by 1/2 length. Punta Ballena finished third. Payton d'Oro, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Medaglia d'Oro, finished 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather surface in 1:43.93 under Terry Thompson.
Custom for Carlos sat just off the leaders in Saturday's $150,000 Count Fleet Handicap, came out into the stretch and unleashed a late surge to get home first by a neck over Chief of Affairs. Riley Tucker finished third. Custom for Carlos, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred More Than Ready colt, finished 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.05 with Mike Smith riding.
Hollywood Hit surged quickly to the lead in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Jacques Cartier Stakes, opened a comfortable advantage under James McAleney, then held off Field Commission at the end to win by 1/2 length. El Brujo was third. Hollywood Hit, a 4-year-old, Oklahoma-bred Cactus Ridge gelding, ran the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:08.99.
Biofuel rallied widest of all in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Star Shoot Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and got home first by 2 lengths over Sharp Secretary. Tee Game was third and the odds-on favorite, Wild Forest Cat, faded from the lead to finish fourth. Biofuel, a Kentucky-bred Stormin Fever filly, finished 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:10.01 under Eurico Da Silva.
Unzip Me led from gate to wire in winning Sunday's $100,000 Las Cienegas Handicap for fillies and mares. At the end, the 4-year-old, Cal-bred City Zip filly bested Czechers by 1 1/4 lengths. Gotta Have Her finished third. Unzip Me, who has been terrorizing distaff sprinters on the Southern California circuit, got the "about" 6 furlongs down the hillside turf course in 1:12.80 with Joe Talamo up.
Dream Nettie stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 La Puente Stakes for 3-year-olds, rallied to the lead entering the stretch run and held off the onrushing Lucky Rave to win by 3/4 length. Bogie was third. Dream Nettie, a Kentucky-bred Dixie Union gelding, ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:48.80 for jockey Joe Talamo.
Warren's Pepe sped to the lead in Saturday's $75,000 Santana Mile, held determinedly in the stretch and won by 1/2 length over the favorite, Slew's Tiznow. Norvsky finished third. Warren't Pepe, a 6-year-old, Cal-bred son of Rahy's Quarterjack, finished the 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:35.44.
My Main Starr trailed most of the field early in Saturday's $50,000 Dahlia Stakes for fillies and mares, was sent around the field by jockey Horacio Karamanos leaving the far turn and got the best of the stretch run to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Fareena. Sales Tax was third. My Main Starr, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Deputy Commander, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.12.
Way With Words had a way with her hooves in Saturday's $50,000 South Beach Stakes. The 6-year-old, New Jersey-bred Sefapiano mare rallied from sixth with a sharp move entering the stretch and went on to win by 4 3/4 lengths over odds-on favorite Akilina, who had some traffic issues on the turn and stumbled in the stretch run. Sandi's Ready got home third. Way With Words finished the 7 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:27.53 under Jose Lezcano.
Apollean battled through some traffic entering the stretch in Saturday's $50,000 Czaria Stakes for fillies and mares, swung wide for racing room and was just up after a long drive to win by a neck over Came West. Stormy Express finished third. Apollean, a 4-year-old, Oklahoma-bred Apollo filly, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.01 with Alejandro Medellin in the irons.
Bella's Sister pressed the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Hallowed Dreams Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, got by early leader Trickin G after a stretch duel and got clear to win by 2 3/4 lengths. Sheza Sexy A.P. finished third. Bella's Sister, a Louisiana-bred daughter of Loolighttoquit, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:05.09 under Nathaniel Puello.
Apapane rallied by pacesetting Oken Sakura in the shadow of the wire to win Sunday's Oka Sho, or One Thousand Guineas. Apapane, last year's champion 2-year-old filly in Japan, finished the 1,600 meters in course record time of 1:33.5. She is by King Kamehameha out of the Salt Lake mare Salty Bid. The Oka Sho is the first race of the Japanese "Triple Crown" for fillies.
Melito becomes the first horse to qualify for this fall's Breeders' Cup World Championships through the international "Challenge" series. The 4-year-old, Australian-bred filly won the Darley T.J. Smith Stakes Saturday at Randwick, down under. That qualified her for a spot in the starting gate of the Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs on the first weekend of November.
News and notes: Personal Ensign passed away Thursday of natural causes at her paddock at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky. The daughter of Private Account, bred and owned by Ogden Phipps and trained by Shug McGaughey, retired sound with a record of 13 wins from 13 starts, capped by her stirring victory over Winning Colors in the 1988 Breeders' Cup Distaff at Churchill Downs. The improbable, come-from-behind win over a muddy track remains one of the most memorable moments in racing history. Her progeny include Miners Mark and My Flag.