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A lot will be at stake Saturday at Santa Anita

Four major races are on the Oak Tree card, with popular 3-year-olds Zenyatta and Mine That Bird scheduled to run and Breeders' Cup and horse-of-the-year implications in the air.

October 10, 2009|Bill Dwyre

Not to be lost in the scrum of a Saturday sports scene that will feature two baseball playoff games and the usual crowded schedule of college football is a huge racing day at Santa Anita.

For this day, at least, the Great Race Place should live up to its name.

Four of the races at the Oak Tree meeting will hand out a total of $1.1 million in purses and each of the four will qualify its winner for next month's Breeders' Cup, also at Santa Anita. And two of the current bigger names in the sport are scheduled to compete.

Zenyatta will run in the $300,000 Lady's Secret, for fillies and mares, 3-year-olds and up. If trainer John Shirreffs' pride and joy wins, it will mark her 13th victory without a defeat and match the 20-year-old record of Personal Ensign.

Shirreffs, not given to excessive exclamations, says of Zenyatta, "What she has done is something we never imagined."

The other big name is Mine That Bird, the 50-1 winner of the Kentucky Derby in May under the sensational, weaving ride of fearless jockey Calvin Borel. Borel will be on board as Mine That Bird starts from the 10th hole for the $350,000 Goodwood.

This will be Mine That Bird's first outing against older horses. In last year's Breeders' Cup, the skinny little competitor with tiny press clippings finished 12th among 12 horses in the Juvenile. Trainer Chip Woolley blames himself for that, saying the horse was shipped to Santa Anita too late to have a decent chance.

Woolley says Mine That Bird seems fine now with Santa Anita's synthetic surface. Despite Mine That Bird's Derby credentials -- he will be the first Derby winner to run in Santa Anita's Goodwood the same year he won the Derby -- Zenyatta has a tendency to steal every show she is in.

The huge mare's crowd-pleasing, come-from-behind style is so pronounced that, even when she gets so far back that a victory seems impossible, as it did in her last race at Del Mar, she finds another gear.

Adding to the drama will be the pending decision, assuming today's outcome is good, on whether Zenyatta will defend her title in the Nov. 6 Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic or takes on the big boys in the next day's Breeders' Cup Classic.

Although Shirreffs and owners Jerry and Ann Moss downplay it, there is an outside chance that a victory over the boys in the big Classic would give her a shot at horse-of-the-year honors. The assumption is that Rachel Alexandra, Jess Jackson's 3-year-old filly and stunning Preakness winner this year, is the shoo-in.

The new element, however, is Jackson's announcement Friday that Rachel Alexandra will take the rest of the year off. Rachel Alexandra was never coming to the Breeders' Cup because Jackson, and trainer Steve Asmussen, dislike synthetic surfaces.

Shirreffs is of the same mind, saying,. "I hate synthetics." Still, his horse is running, probably twice more at Santa Anita, and the body of work for horse-of-the-year voters can grow in Zenyatta's camp.

The day will include the $300,000 Grade I Yellow Ribbon Stakes and the $150,000 Grade II Oak Tree Mile.


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