Trainer Bob Baffert saddled a pair in Sunday's Grade 1 Zenyatta Stakes at Santa Anita, but all the attention was on 1-9 favorite Abel Tasman, winner of back-to-back G1 races in New York this year. She broke poorly, however, and finished an uninspiring fifth. Instead, it was her stablemate Vale Dori who managed to get the job done with the addition of blinkers. Owned by Sheikh Mohammad bin Khalifa al Maktoum, the 6-year-old daughter of Asiatic Boy was sent off at odds of 11-1 under Joe Talamo. She stalked the early leader, taking command on the far turn and holding it through the wire to best La Force by three-quarters of a length, completing 1 1/16 miles over the fast main track in 1:44.88. The win earns Vale Dori an expenses-paid berth to the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Churchill Downs.
“I'm worried about (Abel Tasman) because Mike (Smith) said she was lethargic, and she's up there where all these sick horses are, so I hope she's not getting sick,” said Baffert, who although Abel Tasman fizzled, still notched his third career win in the Zenyatta. “…I'm about as shocked as everybody else, but they'll do that.”
When asked about Vale Dori adding blinkers today, Baffert responded, “She'd been working well, but she hadn't been getting away from the gate. If she doesn't get away well, she doesn't run well.”
Baffert then addressed Abel Tasman's demeanor at the starting gate.
“When I saw Abel Tasman break horrible like that, it looked like shades of Arrogate at Del Mar in the (2017) San Diego…She's never run a bad one. Mike said she felt sound and all that, but she was just completely lethargic…My main concern is that Abel's okay and not getting sick on me.”
Abel Tasman broke very slowly, and was six lengths last approaching the clubhouse turn. Shenandoah Queen started well and grabbed the lead by about a length over Vale Dori, while Lemoona and La Force tracked from third and fourth through fractions of :23.98 and :48.02. Vale Dori ranged up outside Shenandoah Queen on the far turn, taking the lead after six furlongs in 1:12.35.
La Force posed the biggest threat down the lane, but was a bit late to find her best stride and Vale Dori hung on to win by three quarters of a length. Shenandoah Queen faded to finish third. Meanwhile, Abel Tasman never seemed to engage with the field, and never changed leads down the stretch. Jockey Mike Smith wrapped up on her through the wire, which she crossed in fifth place.
“There's been a bit of the flu going around the backside with some of these horses so hopefully it's not hitting her, but it certainly could have,” Smith said of Abel Tasman. “She kind of made a middle move down the backside to get herself into some sort of position to maybe make a run and I thought she could probably still win anyway. But then she just decided that was enough.”
Bred in Argentina by Abolengo, Vale Dori is out of the Halo Sunshine mare Valerina. She won a Group 1 in Argentina before heading to the UAE, where she placed in the UAE Oaks, and was sent to the United States late in 2016. Vale Dori had a strong year in 2017, winning four of her six starts including the G1 Santa Margarita, but seemed to drop off form in 2018. The addition of blinkers seemed to do the trick this time, and the Zenyatta improves her overall record to 10 wins from 21 starts for earnings of over $1.3 million.
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