It's been a storybook ride the last three months for the five-year-old mare Zuzanna.
Claimed for $8,000 on Sept. 13, 2018 by a partnership group that includes TVG host and analyst Kurt Hoover, the bay daughter of Wilburn won three of four subsequent races, the most recent yesterday's second at Santa Anita, a $46,000 starter allowance at a mile on turf.
Coming from seventh and last, Zuzanna won by a length and a half under Kent Desormeaux, who has ridden her to two of her last three victories, with one second. The win earned her honors as Claimer of the Meet in Santa Anita's annual media poll.
“She's a doll to ride,” Desormeaux said Sunday morning at Clockers' Corner, giving considerable credit to her trainer, Bob Hess Jr., with whom the 49-year-old Hall of Fame rider has enjoyed remarkable success through the years dating back to the early 1990s, winning nearly 38 percent of the time on mounts conditioned by Hess.
“The race she lost (second by 1 ¼ lengths going a mile and an eighth on May 24) was probably her best effort with me, because there was always a target,” Desormeaux continued. “But even when she lost, she ran wild, she ran awesome; the winner just outran her that day.
“She showed her tenacity yesterday because she had to make a long run. When we left the gate, we went about 50 yards and I could hear the water squeezing out of the course from the two days of rain we had. It wasn't really rain, but it was misty those mornings.
“So I was content to sit back there, and sure enough the field came back to me. She caught them, too, but in all the turf races the last two days, the winner came from last except in yesterday's final race. So Zuzanna proved to be in the right spot, and she did the rest.
“Bob's done a fabulous job with her.”
Addressing his success with Hess, Desormeaux was succinct. “I'm grateful to him for having the respect to put me on horses he likes,” Kent said. “My brother (trainer Keith Desormeaux) tries to do the same thing, but quite honestly, he tells me to my face, 'Anybody can ride and win on Exaggerator. I need you to help me out on the ones that are not that good.'
“It's funny the way he put it, but it makes me understand that sometimes it's important to get fifth on a horse.”
Before Saturday's races, Desormeaux was one of several Hall of Fame jockeys past and present who participated in a trackside benefit for the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund, which was later followed by a luxurious luncheon.
“The banquet was more impressive to me,” he said, “because we were all rubbing shoulders. Even my jaw dropped seeing some of the people I idolized as a young rider—Bobby Ussery, Braulio Baeza, Steve Cauthen.
“I didn't know them all very well; I just knew their stories, but to have Steve Cauthen there made me feel really, really good just to be a part of it.”
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