Trainer John Shirreffs confirmed Zenyatta’s participation via telephone Sunday afternoon and Mr. and Mrs. Jerome Moss’ 5-year-old daughter of Street Cry is scheduled to board a Louisville-bound plane after leaving Shirreffs’ barn at Santa Anita on Monday.
Shirreffs and the Mosses finalized the decision to bring their unbeaten champion to Churchill Downs after she turned in a sharp five furlongs in :59 over the synthetic Cushion Track surface on Sunday morning at Hollywood Park. The Oaks Day race would be only Zenyatta’s second appearance on conventional dirt. All of her other victories have been scored on synthetic tracks in California.
The brilliant mare earned the Eclipse Award for the top older filly or mare of 2008 following a campaign in which she was perfect in seven races. All of her 2008 wins came in stakes races and four were in Grade I events.
Zenyatta’s primary challenger in the 1 1/8-mile race is One Caroline, an unbeaten daughter of Unbridled’s Song owned by G. Watts Humphrey Jr. and trained by Rusty Arnold. The 4-year-old filly is coming off an easy win in the Rampart Handicap (GII) at Gulfstream Park, her fifth consecutive victory. Others considered possible for the Louisville Distaff, formerly known as the Louisville Breeders’ Cup, include Falls City Handicap (GII) winner Miss Isella, Bear Now, Dawn After Dawn, Stealin' Kisses, Sugar Mint, Swift Temper, Unbridled Belle, and Unforgotten.
Other stars scheduled for stakes appearances during the Kentucky Oaks program on Friday, May 1 and the Kentucky Derby Day stakes on May 2 include Einstein, Indian Blessing, Laragh, Fabulous Strike, Kodiak Kowboy and Macho Again.
The versatile and accomplished Einstein is scheduled to defend his 2008 $500,000-added Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI) on Kentucky Derby Day. The 7-year-old son of 1965 Kentucky Derby winner Spend A Buck is coming off a victory in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap (GI) at Santa Anita, a race that marked his debut on a synthetic racing surface. A three-time Grade I winner on grass, Einstein also won last fall’s Clark Handicap (GII) and finished second to two-time “Horse of the Year” Curlin in the $1 million Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) on the dirt surface at Churchill Downs.
Others expected to contest the 1 1/8-mile Woodford Reserve Turf Classic include Cowboy Cal, Court Vision, Artiste Royal, Proudinsky, Zambezi Sun, Yate’s Black Cat, Just as Well and Furthest Land.
The Grade I $300,000-added Humana Distaff, a seven-furlong Derby Day test for older fillies and mares on the main track, will be headed by Patti and Hal Earnhardt’s Indian Blessing, runner-up to Big City Man when she tested males in the Dubai Golden Shaheen at Nad Al Sheba in late March. The Bob Baffert-trained daughter of Indian Charlie has a 9-4-0 record in 13 races and is expected to face a talented group of rivals that include Game Face, Secret Gypsy, Informed Decision, Royale Michele, Sugar Mint and Tiz To Dream.
The Grade II, $250,000-added Churchill Downs Stakes Presented by Carewise Health (GII) for 4-year-olds and up on Derby Day shapes up as showdown between sprint stars Fabulous Strike and Kodiak Kowboy, Other possible contenders in the seven furlong race include Ide Like A Double, My Pal Charlie, Paul's Hope, Riley Tucker, Silver Edition, Sok Sok, Spotsgone, and The Roundhouse.
The $100,000 Eight Belles Presented by GE Consumer & Industrial (GIII), formerly the La Troienne, will match 3-year-old fillies over 7 ½-furlongs on Derby Day. Now named in honor of the ill-fated Fox Hill Farms’ filly who was runner-up to Big Brown in the 2008 Kentucky Derby, the Eight Belles is expected to attract a field that could include the Steve Asmussen-trained duo of Auspicious and Four Gifts, the Larry Jones-trained Just Jenda, Arlington-Washington Lassie (GIII) winner C.S. Silk, Dave's Revenge, Diamond Tags, Gatorette, Lady's Laughter, Luster, and Warrior Maid.
The remaining race on the Kentucky Derby Day schedule of six stakes events is the $100,000 Churchill Downs Distaff Turf Mile (GIII) Presented by American Commercial Lines (GIII). The one-mile test for older fillies and mares on the Matt Winn Turf Course could include Ballymore Lady, Elusive Lady, Flibberjibit, Lady Carlock, Lemon Chiffon, Rustic Flame, Sugar Mint, Sweeter Still, and Tizaqueena.
Along with the 135th running of the Kentucky Oaks and the Louisville Distaff, the four other stakes races on the Oaks Day card will attract star-studded fields.
The $100,000 American Turf Presented by HRTV (GIII) is expected to mark the stakes debut of the promising Affirmatif as the Todd Pletcher-trained colt faces stakes veterans Battle of Hastings, Bittel Road, Jack Spratt, Orthodox, Skipadate, Stormalory and Turfiste in the 1 1/16-mile test on the Matt Winn Turf Course.
New Orleans Handicap (GIII) and 2008 Preakness (GI) runner-up Macho Again heads the 1 1/16-mile Alysheba Presented by ZirMed (GIII). The 1 1/16-mile race for older horses could also include 2008 Kentucky Derby veteran Cool Coal Man, Ready Set, Acting Zippy, Bullsbay, Prom Shoes, Dr. Pleasure, Golden Yank, Star Guitar and Limestone Edge.
The $100,000-added Edgewood Presented by Recreonics Inc.could attract Laragh, winner of the Hollywood Starlet (GI) on the synthetic Cushion Track course at Hollywood Park and third to Stardom Bound in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. Other possible starters include Abbott Hall, Banker's Choice, Kiss Mine, Magical Affair, Speed Dating, Stone Legacy and Walloon.
The $100,000-added Aegon Turf Sprint (GIII) for 3-year-olds and up at five furlongs on grass is expected to attract star turf sprinter Smart Enough and rivals that include Accredit, Castles in the Sky, Chitoz, Due Date, Jazz Nation and Silver Edition.