It’s hard to believe it’s been nine years since the great Hall of Famer Zenyatta first won the race that would one day bear her name. Inaugurated in 1993 as the Lady’s Secret Stakes (GI) and originally named for the Hall of Famer and 1986 Horse of the Year, Santa Anita in 2012 changed the race’s name to honor the mare who left her mark not only on California racing, but became a household name worldwide for her stunning come-from-behind running style and impressive record of 19 victories from 20 starts, which included a thrilling defeat of males in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI).
No winner since has managed to fill the enormous hoofprints the great Zenyatta left behind, though several standout names have tried and, this year, six will head postward in their quest to do the “Queen” proud. Additionally, the 1 1/16-mile test serves as a Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win & You’re In” event for the Nov. 3 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI) at Del Mar, so year-end implications for the six fillies and mares heading postward remain high.
Champion and Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Hollywood Wildcat won the first two runnings of the Lady’s Secret in 1993 and 1994 and, since then, distaffers to have added their name to the winners’ roster includes Sharp Cat, Manistique, Azeri, Got Koko and the recently retired fan favorite Beholder, who captured the event three years in a row from 2013 to 2015 . Grade 1 winner and division leader Stellar Wind, who will be training up to the Breeders’ Cup after winning her last three, won this race a year ago.
The early favorite this year is Santa Anita Oaks (GI) heroine Paradise Woods, who suffered two disappointing defeats in her two starts since that big victory in the Kentucky Oaks (GI) in May and the Torrey Pines Stakes (GIII) at Del Mar in August. However, Hall of Famer Richard Mandella has tweaked her training regimen ever so slightly and it can be argued it’s worked, since she’s never looked better as she’s matured into a grown-up this fall. The best news about her here is she has some tactical ability, which will help her depending on how the early pace of the race sets up. But if she performs anywhere near how she did in winning the Santa Anita Oaks, she’s a good bet to reach the winner’s circle here under regular jockey Flavien Prat.
Shenandoah Queen, who was purchased out of Florida privately earlier this year, posted a stunning upset in the Tranquility Lake Stakes at Del Mar in August at 20-1, and if the 5-year-old mare maintains that form heading into this event, she’s a threat to light up the tote board again. The daughter of Henny Hughes boasts the same connections as Stellar Wind (Hronis Racing, John Sadler, Victor Espinoza), so we know she’s not entered to finish as an also-ran. A verified pace stalker, if she runs as well as she’s been training in the morning she will be tough. This is definitely her acid test, but she seems to have the equipment to post a legitimate performance.
Faithfully was upset by Shenandoah Queen at odds of 3-5 last time, but it’s a good bet jockey Rafael Bejarano won’t get caught not looking this time. The Bob Baffert trainee has performed well against the best of the Southern California distaffers in Stellar Wind and Vale Dori (a third in the Clement Hirsh at Del Mar) previously and has a nice record of three wins from five starts at the distance. She’s capable of posting the figures to get the job done here and a win from mid-pack after breaking from the innermost post position isn’t a stretch of the imagination.
Motown Lady was third in the Tranquility Lake. She seems to have done her best running in optional claiming/allowance races overall, but has found a good spot to try graded company for trainer Keith Desormeaux and his brother, jockey Kent.
Rockport Babe may be suited to softer company, but trainer Mick Ruis is having a pretty good year, so give this one an extra long look.
Lightly raced Midnight Toast gets the acid test here, but will need to improve a lot to have a say, even in this short field.
Carded as Santa Anita’s fifth race on Saturday, the Zenyatta Stakes carries a post time of 2:30 p.m. PT.