The Clement L. Hirsch Stakes isn't the only race that, when it comes up on the calendar, gets trainer John Sherriffs thinking about Zenyatta.
The Hirsch, a Grade I $300,000 event that will be run for the 49th time on Sunday at Del Mar, was one of four stakes won multiple times by the great mare in a career of 19 straight victories and only one loss, that coming by mere inches to Blame in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic in her final start.
The three Clement Hirsch victories in 2008-2010 were all accomplished in typical Zenyatta fashion, coming from far behind when victory looked impossible to prevail by a narrow margin. In 2008 it was by a length over Model, 2009 by a head over Anabaa's Creation and in 2010 by a neck over Rinterval. Mike Smith was, of course, aboard for all three.
“I'll never forget the morning (2010) when the synthetic track was all messed up and I had to make a decision and was thinking about not running,” Shirreffs recalled Saturday morning. “I went to the racing office (to complain) because I knew (track superintendent) Richard Tedesco could get it back in shape. He did, we ran her and she won.”
Sunday's running marks the 10th anniversary of the narrowest Hirsch win for Zenyatta. The official “head” margin appeared much closer than that in the live running. Shirreffs called it “a whisker” when remembering.
“They were all pretty close, and at that particular time we just felt blessed for whatever she did winning so many in a row,” Shirreffs said.
Sunday, Shirreffs has his best chance since Zenyatta at a Hirsch victory – which carries with it a spot in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff – when he saddles 8-5 morning line favorite Paradise Woods in the 1 1/16-mile main track run.
The 5-year-old Union Rags mare has four wins from 15 starts, among them the Grade I Zenyatta at Santa Anita in 2017 and the Grade II Santa Margarita there in April. The latter was the first victory in four 2019 starts for Shirreffs after Paradise Woods was transferred from the barn of Hall of Famer Richard Mandella.
In her most recent race, the Grade II Santa Maria at Santa Anita on June 1, Paradise Woods nearly went to her knees in a stumbling start, was boxed in along the rail in a five-horse field until well into the stretch, and lost by 1 ¼ lengths to Hirsch rival La Force. With $985,890 in career earnings, Paradise Woods can top the $1 million mark by finishing fourth or better in the seven-horse race.
“She looks really good and she has trained well, so I feel very good about it,” Shirreffs said. “I thought her last race was a really good effort especially with the desire to finish she showed after the bad start and being boxed in like she was.”
The field from the rail with the morning line issued Friday by oddsmaker Russ Hudak: La Force (Drayden Van Dyke, 3-1), Just a Smidge (Martin Garcia, 15-1), Secret Spice (Flavien Prat, 2-1), Ollie's Candy (Kent Desormeaux, 5-1), Paradise Woods (Mike Smith, 8-5), Queen Bee To You (Ruben Fuentes, 20-1) and Spring in the Wind (Rafael Bejarano, 20-1).
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