Monday, June 14, 2010

Zenyatta keeps date with Destiny:Sarafina romps in Prix Diane

Sarafina was a short-priced favorite in the Prix Diane (French Oaks) at Chantilly on Sunday. The going was soft. Sarafina, from the yard of Alain de Royer-Dupre, was the mount of Christophe Lemaire, who was attempting to get an encore in the Prix Diane after having won the Group I Classic in 2009 with Stacelita.

Jockey Lemaire had Sarafina held up and made headway rapidly to strike the front in the final furlong. Nine ran and Rosanara ran on take the runner-up berth. It was, therefore, a 1-2 deal for the Aga Khan in the French Oaks. Sarafina, winner of the Group I Prix Alary at Longchamp, was only running in her third career start. She is now three for three with a pair of Group I victories in her resume. The French Oaks is a 2100-metre contest. The time was two minutes 7.8 seconds.

It was the sixth Oaks win for the sartorially savvy Alain de Royer-Dupre. The Aga Khan was also getting his sixth success in the Prix Diane. It was the second Group I ‘Classic’ win for Christophe Lemaire in 2010. He was aboard Makfi, the 33-1 upset winner, in the English 2000 Guineas in early May. Sunday afternoon was extra special for Lemaire. He won the 1600-metre Group III Prix du Chemin de Fer du Nord with Fuisse after winning the Oaks.

In Britain, one could bet Sarafina at even money. In the French tote, Sarafina was part of a three-filly entry. The payoff in France was 70 cents on one Euro.

I will speak to Lemaire on Monday before he leaves Paris for London. I was unable to reach him until late Sunday in Paris. He has rides at Longchamp Monday afternoon. He has high profile mounts at Royal Ascot on Tuesday. Makfi will be ridden by Olivier Peslier in the St James’s Palace Stakes, the third race on Tuesday, because Lemaire has a contractual obligation to ride the Aga Khan-owned Siyouni.

Tony McCoy is the top jumps jockey in the United Kingdom. He has ridden the most ‘jumps’ winners and broke his Grand National duck this year with Don’t Push It, his 15th attempt in England’s premier steeplechase contest. Jockey McCoy has been awarded the OBE (Order of the British Empire) and is in the Queen’s birthday honors list. McCoy joins Pat Eddery and John Francome, two legendary jockeys, who have received the OBE.

“It is a great honor for me. Things like this are always nice and it is a bit different from some of my other achievements,” jockey McCoy said.

Paris is nine hours ahead of Los Angeles. Several hours later, at Hollywood Park, six distaffers went to post in the Grade I $250,000 Vanity Handicap. What was special about this race? Among the six, there was a mare, six years-old, who was making her 17th career start. Why should mention be made of a mare running for the 17th time in her life? The six year-old mare, Zenyatta had won all her 16 starts before racing in the Vanity Handicap. In addition to seeking her 17th consecutive win, Zenyatta, a Street Cry mare, was attempting to win the Vanity three years in a row.

The Vanity field included Zardana who had inflicted a defeat on Rachel Alexandra at Fair Grounds this year. There was St Trinians, with impeccable English origins, who had distinguished herself in the United States. Zenyatta was a half money choice. Those were generous odds but in America, a huge (late) bet would have brought it down. The pace was honest. The first 1200 metres in the 1800-metre race was run in 1 11.91 and Zenyatta lay last and sixth. St Trinians was racing fifth. Charging four-wide coming into the final turn, St Trinians took charge and had a 2 ½ length lead with 200 metres to go. Zenyatta, taken five-deep for the stretch drive, was in chase and for a moment or two, it looked like she had met her match. Jockey Mike Smith called on the champion mare. Champions do what needs to be done in difficult situations. Zenyatta put her stride into action. The gap was being narrowed and Zenyatta, in full flight, swept past St Trinians in the waning yards. The margin was one half length. The 1800-metre Vanity was run in 1 49.01 on Hollywood’s Cushion track.

Zenyatta returned $3.00 to win and the mandatory $2.10 for place. There was no show wagering. A bobble head of Zenyatta was given away and a big crowd was on hand. The Vanity purse took Zenyatta’s earnings to $6,074,580. Pepper’s Pride, a sprinting mare, won 19 races in a row and raced exclusively in New Mexico. It is reasonable to think that 19 and then 20, would be on the horizon for Zenyatta’s connections.

Jockey Mike Smith took his cap off on two occasions and looked up the sky to thank the Lord. It was a gesture of gratitude and the fans burst into prolonged applause.

I saw the video replay. In my next blog, I may be able to read a quote or two from Mike Smith or trainer John Shirreffs and reproduce it.

Siachen is a name that had me intrigued. After the filly’s win in the Bangalore Fillies Trial Stakes, I did some research. The information I collected is from a story by Nick Easen of CNN, Hong Kong.

Siachen is a glacier. It is the ultimate symbol in the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan. According to the article, maintaining positions on the frigid Siachen has come to symbolize the political and military resolve in the conflict. It is the world’s highest battlefield with troops stationed higher than most north American, European or African mountains. At 20,700 feet, India controls these heights at an estimated cost of one million dollars a day and is reluctant to back off for fear Pakistan might walk in.

Let me now tell you the essence of my conversation with jockey Srinath. I spoke to Srinath about 11 AM Monday India time. “Siachen was a little heavy last time out. I rode and she was narrowly beaten. On Sunday, she was much fitter. I have done work with her and Mr Zeyn Mirza was very pleased. He offered the ride and I readily accepted.”

“The course was soft. I would say ‘dead’ yesterday. The time, 1 42, says a lot about my filly. I wanted to stay covered up and that is how she does her best. The pace was not particularly fast. I was able to stay in range and when I had room and let her loose, she had a lot left. With 200 metres to go, I knew the race was in the bag. Now, I know Mr Mirza and Mr Dhariwal will want me to ride her in the future. I will be aboard in the Bangalore Derby and I believe it is an option. She will get better in the weeks to come.”

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