How to bet the Zenyatta

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TwinSpires Staff

September 28th, 2018

Abel Tasman (inside) wins the Personal Ensign (G1) at Saratoga (c) NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photography

by Dick Powell

A field of six fillies and mares will take the main track at Santa Anita Park on Sunday for the 1 1/16-mile Zenyatta Stakes (G1), a “Win & You’re In” event for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1).

ABEL TASMAN (#2) (2-5) has already qualified twice with wins in the Ogden Phipps Stakes (G1) and Personal Ensign Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park and Saratoga, respectively. The Bob Baffert trainee is an absolute monster, and under certain circumstances I would be tempted to pick her she entered the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1); she is that good. Her BRIS Speed ratings match up with anyone, and physically, you would have a hard time separating her from the males. Her only weakness is also her strength – an outrageously long stride that could be problematic if she were ever stuck in traffic up against the rail.

In the Personal Ensign, it looked like she might be in trouble but jockey Mike Smith adeptly split horses down the backstretch to get clear and brace for the stretch challenge of Elate. That was a six-horse field and that is what she will be facing in this spot, with one of them being a fellow Baffert pupil. But, the one-mile main track at Santa Anita is a lot tighter than the 1 1/8-mile main track at Saratoga, so that might work against her a bit.

I don’t see any way that this group can beat Abel Tasman. She dwarfs this field on any number of measurements and has had four workouts since she ran five weeks ago. She is game, has incredible cruising speed and her monstrous stride comes in handy if challenged in the stretch. Smith is a genius in big races and always has a Plan B if Plan A goes amiss. Abel Tasman is just too good for this group.

The only other stakes winner in the field is Baffert’s other runner, VALE DORI (#4) (5-1), whose stakes form was last year when she won four straight graded contests, three of which came over this main track. Since then, her form has been spotty but Baffert adds blinkers here in an effort to get her involved early like she used to do. Last out, Vale Dori lost all chance when she missed the break and was a well-beaten second, but maybe the blinkers gets her back to last year’s form.

LA FORCE (#3) (4-1) made her first 12 career starts on the turf but the German-bred filly has taken to the dirt very nicely. She was second in a pair of Grade 1s behind Unique Bella in her last two starts and her closing kick is as good as anyone in here. The Paddy Gallagher trainee gets four pounds from Abel Tasman and cannot be ignored.

This year’s Zenyatta Stakes is not the easiest race to bet since Abel Tasman will be an overwhelming favorite but it is still a prep race for bigger things. In football, we would call this a “look ahead” game, where a good team gets upset since they are looking ahead to a big game next week. At odds-on, I will take the risk of looking foolish and try to beat her.

Joe Talamo picks up the mount on Vale Dori and, with the addition of blinkers, I think she will be going to the front and pose a major threat.


Win: #4 Vale Dori
Exacta: #2 Abel Tasman with #4 Vale Dori