SHE’S BACK: ZENYATTA FACES EIGHT IN SATURDAY’S SANTA MARGARITA; DERBY BOUND CARACORTADO HEADS SAN FELIPE

ARCADIA, Calif. (March 10, 2010) – Zenyatta, racing’s paragon of perfection, returns to action Saturday in the 73rd running of the Grade I, $250,000 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap at Santa Anita, where last seen on Nov. 7 she was scoring an unprecedented victory over males in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic that extended her unbeaten streak to 14, led to a repeat as champion older female, and emblazoned her enormous popularity.

If you listen to her Hall of Fame jockey, Zenyatta’s 2010 campaign as a 6-year-old will only buttress her brilliance. “I know it sounds funny,” Mike Smith said following a recent workout, “but I really think she’s getting better.”

Zenyatta will carry high weight of 127 pounds against eight opponents in the mile-and-one-eighth Santa Margarita as she prepares for her greatly anticipated showdown with 4-year-old filly Rachel Alexandra, the 2009 Horse of the Year, in the $5 million Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park on April 9.

Fans on Saturday may begin their 2010 comparisons between the pair of illustrious females. Rachael Alexandra makes her seasonal debut 25 minutes earlier than Zenyatta in the inaugural $200,000 New Orleans Ladies’ Stakes over 1 1/16 miles at the Fair Grounds in Louisiana.

Scheduled post time for the seventh-race Santa Margarita is 3:40 p.m. on a 10-race program that begins at 12:30 p.m. California-bred 3-year-old gelding Caracortado, the unfashionable but unbeaten rising star, will seek his sixth victory in the Grade II, $150,000 San Felipe Stakes, the meet’s final major prep at 1 1/16 miles for the April 3 Santa Anita Derby at nine furlongs. In 72 runnings, the San Felipe’s influence has reached deeply into the Kentucky Derby with 11 of its contestants having emerged victorious at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

Santa Anita plans to give away free posters of Zenyatta while supplies last on Saturday. Rachel Alexandra’s race may be witnessed on the giant infield screen as well as television monitors throughout the facility. In addition to televising Santa Anita’s entire card, HRTV will incorporate a special one-hour live presentation entitled “The Champions Return” featuring the two superstars.

The eight fillies and mares who will line up against Zenyatta have been entered with few if any illusions. The realistic goal is a Grade I race placing along with second money of $50,000. “There can’t be anyone going in there thinking they can beat Zenyatta,” said Ben Cecil, who trains Gripsholm Castle, a British import who was second to Striking Dancer in the Grade II La Canada Stakes on Feb. 14, her stateside debut.

Zenyatta, who will break from post position No. 8, will be spotting anywhere from 12 to 19 pounds to her opposition. Once previously she has borne more than 127 pounds. Zenyatta carried 129 when taking the Grade I Vanity Handicap by 2 ½ lengths last June at Hollywood Park.

She is expected to add $150,000 to her earnings for owners Jerry and Ann Moss, which would elevate her career income to $5,624,500. This will mark the daughter of Street Cry’s sixth career start at Santa Anita. “She looks like she’s on top of her game right now,” commented trainer John Shirreffs as the dramatic mare neared her return from four months on the sidelines.

According to Shirreffs, Zenyatta will depart her Hollywood Park headquarters at 10 a.m. Thursday and arrive at Santa Anita at approximately 11 a.m. She will school in Santa Anita’s paddock between races later in the day and remain at Santa Anita until Saturday’s Santa Margarita.

At 115 pounds, Striking Dancer is Zenyatta’s highest weighted opponent. The improving 4-year-old filly’s victory by 1 ½ lengths in the La Canada at odds of 13-1 was her first in a stakes race. Alex Solis will ride back for trainer Kenny McPeek. The Smart Strike filly has earned $206,097 for Steve Stan Stables from a 4-1-3 record in 11 starts.

The Barry Abrams conditioned Pretty Unusual took Santa Anita’s Grade II El Encino Stakes while upsetting former 2-year-old filly champion Stardom Bound at odds of 29-1. It was the first stakes win for the 4-year-old Unusual Heat offspring who will again be ridden by Chantal Sutherland. Owned by Madeline Auerbach and partners, Pretty Unusual was weighted at 113 pounds.

The complete field for the Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap, with jockeys, weights and morning line in post position order: Dance to My Tune, Martin Garcia, 111, 50-1; Pretty Katherine, Joel Rosario, 111, 50-1; Made for Magic, Omar Berrio, 111, 50-1; Pretty Unusual, Chantal Sutherland, 113, 12-1; Striking Dancer, Alex Solis, 115, 8-1; Powerofvoodoo, Tyler Kaplan, 108, 50-1; Gripsholm Castle, Victor Espinoza, 112, 12-1; Zenyatta, Mike Smith, 127, 1-9, and Floating Heart, Joseph Talamo, 111, 12-1.

Seven 3-year-olds were entered in the San Felipe with Caracortado high weighted at 119 pounds in what will be the day’s ninth race. Caracortado is fast becoming the blue-collar favorite among the bluebloods in the Triple Crown picture. Not only is he a California-bred gelding by little known sire Cat Dreams, but Caracortado is trained and co-owned by breeder Mike Machowsky, who has a small, but efficient stable, and he is ridden by Paul Atkinson, who had all but fallen off racing’s radar screen at the age of 40.

After Caracortado won the Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes by a definitive 1 ¾ lengths as the race’s fourth choice while covering 1 1/16 miles in a sprightly 1:41.75, Machowsky remarked, “I read what everybody writes about him, that he is kind of off-bred, not a blueblood, but he’s honest. You can’t knock that. I think using a low-profile rider probably has kept him flying under the radar, but if he’s under the radar now, he shouldn’t be.” Each of Caracortado’s five wins has been accomplished with authority. The winning margin in each has been either 1 ½ or 1 ¾ lengths.

The Lewis provided Atkinson with his biggest career victory. And should Caracortado indeed reach the Kentucky Derby, Atkinson will indeed be there. Both Machowsky and his partner, Don Blahut, are pledged to that. “I’m a firm believer that loyalty means something, and Paul has ridden him flawlessly every time,” said Machowsky. “It’s everybody’s dream to get to the Derby, and Paul deserves as much chance as a guy like Garrett Gomez or Mike Smith.”

An earner of $199,200, Caracortado’s victims in the Lewis included a pair of 3-year-olds, Tiz Chrome and American Lion, who were early consensus choices among the nation’s top 10 Kentucky Derby prospects. American Lion will seek vengeance in the 73rd running of the San Felipe after fading to third, one-half length behind Dave in Dixie, in the Lewis.

Jockey Julien Leparoux, who found himself in a spirited pace duel with favored Tiz Chrome, will be back aboard the WinStar Farm’s homebred son of Tiznow. Trained by Eoin Harty, American Lion has won 2 of 4 starts including Hollywood Park’s Grade III Hollywood Prevue for earnings of $113,600. He will be equipped with blinkers for the first time on Saturday.

Dave in Dixie, a son of Dixie Union owned by Ike and Dawn Thrash, is a stretch-running sort who turned in his best effort in three starts in the Lewis. Joel Rosario will be back aboard for trainer John Sadler as Dave in Dixie seeks his first stakes victory.

Trainer Todd Pletcher, deep in talented 3-year-olds again this season, will be represented by Interactif, a winner of a pair of Grade III stakes in the East and who ran a close third to Pounced in the Grade II Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita’s Oak Tree meet last November.

Wertheimer & Frere’s Interactif, who has posted a 3-1-1 record in six starts for earnings of $288,250, brings the biggest bankroll into the San Felipe. Rafael Bejarano will take over in the saddle from Florida-based Kent Desormeaux as Interactif tries a synthetic surface for the first time following four races on grass.

The contention for Caracortado is rounded out by Sidney’s Candy, the Craig Family Trust’s highly promising son of Candy Ride who will be racing around two turns for the first time with regular rider Joe Talamo in the irons.

Trained by John Sadler, Sidney’s Candy regained his luster with a 4 ½-length triumph in Santa Anita’s Grade II San Vicente Stakes at seven furlongs on Feb. 10 after a troubled but dull fourth-place effort as the 3-5 favorite in an allowance event on Dec. 30. His uneven four-race career began with a second-place debut before a sizzling four-length maiden win at Del Mar last summer that cast Sidney’s Candy as the local “buzz horse” among Derby prospects.

The complete field for the San Felipe Stakes, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Stephen’s Got Hope, Tyler Baze, 115; Interactif, Rafael Bejarano, 117; Erbeia, Solis, 115; American Lion, Julien Leparoux, 117; Sidney’s Candy, Talamo, 117; Dave in Dixie, Rosario, 115, and Caracortado, Paul Atkinson, 119.

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