Apple Blossom Diary: March 10 -12

March 10 – Zenyatta will face eight opponents in Saturday’s Santa Margarita, conceding from 12 to 19 pounds. Her main threats appear to be the La Canada winner Striking Dancer (115 lbs), trained by the always dangerous Kenny McPeek; La Canada runner-up Gripsholm Castle (112), who ran a big race in her U.S. debut; and the Todd Pletcher-trained Floating Heart (111 lbs), third in the La Canada, who will be dropping five pounds off that effort. There is absolutely no speed in the race, so just about anyone is capable of going to the lead in what assuredly will be a very slow pace. Because of the unfavorable scenario, Zenyatta will have to be closer up than usual.

March 11 – Rachel schooled at the gate this morning, her third visit to the gate in preparation for Saturday’s New Orleans Ladies. She will school in the paddock one last time tomorrow before the fourth race.

Rachel’s exercise rider Dominic Terry put it in simple terms on his Facebook page: “Two more days !!! Repeat 10000.000 times!!”

Lisa Borel said this year she’s determined to be excited more than nervous, but she’s sure the nerves will kick in soon as Saturday approaches. “I’m trying to keep busy and my mind quiet,” she said.

Zenyatta arrived at Santa Anita at 11:30 this morning after an uneventful van ride from Hollywood Park. “She’s a good shipper; she’s a pro,” said groom Mario Espinoza. With Zenyatta being off for four months, it is no surprise that she has put on about 25 pounds since the Breeders’ Cup. “We’re very excited to see her run again,” Shirreffs said.

A quick check over at eBay shows four tickets (two for April 9 and two for April 10) going for $661. The normal ticket prices are $2.50 for Friday and $4.50 for Saturday.

March 12 – For tomorrow’s race, Rachel will be equipped for the first time with a figure-8 bridle to give Borel better control. Rachel has been a handful in the mornings and Asmussen is trying to get her to settle down. He told the Daily Racing Form: “Her gallops have been not as controlled as last year. Right now, we need more control.”

The main concern regarding both fillies is that under normal circumstances they tower over their respective fields, but Rachel has fitness question marks (Asmussen has stated she won’t be 100% fit), as well as having to experiment with new equipment, and Zenyatta has major weight concessions to deal with coming off a layoff. They should be able to overcome it all, but in racing you never know on any given day. If their unbeaten streaks are to end (especially Zenyatta’s), you want it to be because they were beaten legitimately and not because of fitness or weight or a paceless race. But taking a more optimistic approach (which, unfortunately, is not the norm for me), they are two of the greatest fillies of all time and great horses usually find a way to overcome obstacles.

In discussing the weight, Mike Smith said, “I sure hope it won’t make a difference. But it is a lot of weight to spot horses, especially in her first race back. On the bright side, she’s a big mare. She handles weight really well. It is a lot of weight to spot, but what are you going to do? We got what we got. Given a fair opportunity, I think she’s going to run really, really big.”

Ben Cecil, trainer of Gripsholm Castle, said, “The weights are pretty fair. The spread has given us all an outside chance. Zenyatta’s not getting away with it easy, but having said that, she’s pretty good. She’s 1-9 in the morning line, and she deserves to be.”

Zenyatta was out on the track around 7:30 this morning. She galloped a mile and a half under exercise rider Steve Willard and was scheduled to school again prior to today’s third race.

Dominic Terry after his final gallop aboard Rachel: "My job is finally done! Aaahhh! It feels so good ! Now we sit back and see what happens." 

Dottie (Ingordo-Shirreffs) summed it up best -- "Lucky us! We are so blessed to be a part of such a great sport. Cheering all on for a wonderful day of racing!"


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