Saturday brings the horse racing equivalent of speed dating.
Punters will be falling in and out of love with possible Derby contenders faster than Big Brown at full gallop, and it will be love at first sight for fans of Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta as both ladies make their 2010 debut.
2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra goes to post at 6:15 EDT in the $200,000 New Orleans Stakes at Fair Grounds and 2009 Breeders' Cup Champion Zenyatta loads into the gate at 6:40 EDT in the $250,000 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap (G1) at Santa Anita on Saturday.
These races will be preps for their expected showdown in the $5M Apple Blossom Invitational (G1). Coverage of both races beginning at 6:00 EDT live is available as part of a live webcast at NTRA.Com.
Throw in three Kentucky Derby prep races and it's simply an outstanding day for horse racing. Check out these six stellar races being held within a two and a half hour time frame:
*4:50PM - G3 Cicada Stakes - Featuring hot Ontario-bred filly Bickersons
* 5:30 PM - G3 Tampa Bay Derby - Featuring Super Saver and Odysseus at Tampa Bay Downs
* 6:15 PM - New Orleans Ladies Stakes - Featuring Rachel Alexandra at the Fair Grounds
*6:37 PM - G1 Santa Margarita Handicap - Featuring Zenyatta at Santa Anita
* 6:47 PM - G2 Rebel Stakes - Featuring Lookin at Lucky and Dublin at Oaklawn
* 7:39 PM - G2 San Felipe Stakes - Featuring Caracortado and Interactif at Santa Anita
You can wager on all of these events via HorsePlayerInteractive. I will be rooted in my comfy chair and following the chatter on Twitter throughout the races. Come join in on the discussion!
So, the question for serious punters is - Can you bet against Rachel or Zenyatta in their debut? Click on the link for free past performances courtesy of the Daily Racing Form.
Let's take a look at the Santa Margarita where Zenyatta must carry 127lbs for 1m 1/8 racing for the first time since her Breeders' Cup Classic win in November.
SANTA MARGARITA INVITATIONAL H.-GI, $250,000,
4yo/up, f/m, 1 1/8m (AWT)
PP HORSE SIRE JOCKEY TRAINER WT
1 Dance to My Tune Stravinsky M Garcia Hollendorfer 111
This Stravinsky mare is appropriately priced at 50-1. Woodbine punters will be familiar with this Canadian-bred having been under the tutelage of trainers David Cotey through 2008 and with Mark Casse for 2009. Her last win came in the 2007 Jammed Lovely at Woodbine.
Since that win she's never been more than six lengths from the winner and manages to pick up bits and pieces as she goes. It's highly unlikely that she will factor in this event.
2 Pretty Katherine Vindication Rosario Hollendorfer 111
Here's another Canadian-bred boasting odds of 50-1. She hit the board seven of eleven times in 2009 for modest earnings of $96K. Her last win came two starts ago against non-winners of two. Last out she finished a well beaten eighth in the La Canada at SA and the first three finishers of that event are here.
3 Made for Magic Cape Canaveral Berrio Avila 111
Oh dear. Another 50-1 shot. This one isn't Canadian-bred, although the sire Cape Canaveral stands at Highfield Stock Farm in British Columbia. It would take an Olympic-sized effort for Made for Magic to pull off a win in this event.
It's possible that she'll be on the lead until the half as there is no real pace factor in this event.
She faced Zenyatta in the 2009 Lady's Secret finishing 6th at odds of 82-1. That price could be longer on Saturday.
4 Pretty Unusual Unusual Heat Sutherland Abrams 113
Pretty Unusual is not Canadian-bred but her jockey Chantal Sutherland calls Woodbine home - most of the time. The four-year-old daughter of Unusual Heat won the G2 El Encino Stakes Jan 17th at Santa Anita and has shown a certain affinity to the ProRide.
After capturing the El Encino, Pretty Unusual was a willing third place finisher in the Sunshine Millions F&M Turf.
Last out she found a mile to be too short for her liking and will certainly appreciate the stretch out on Saturday, and the 14lbs advantage.
Pretty Unusual holds on for third in the Sunshine Millions F&M turf
5 Striking Dancer Smart Strike Solis McPeek 115
This four-year old won the La Canada last out earning a 93 Beyer in her second start of the season. Eight of her eleven lifetime starts have come on the turf so the La Canada win was somewhat of a surprise at odds of 13-1.
Since that win she's worked twice going four furlongs handily suggesting that a bigger effort could be in the making here.
Striking Dancer wins the La Canada Handicap
6 Powerofvoodoo Unusual Heat Kaplan Abrams 108
This 50-1 shot has had trouble beating claimers. With two wins in 46 lifetime starts, I'll eat my keyboard if she wins this race.
7 Gripsholm Castle Dynaformer Espinoza Cecil 112
The second place finisher in the La Canada might be sitting on an improved performance here. That last outing was her first start in four months and a first try on the synthetic after racing primarily at Newmarket in the UK. Gripsholm Castle earned a 90 Beyer for that first effort.
In a race that has virtually no pace to speak of, it's easy to imagine this one getting to the lead first. Can she show the stamina required to stay the pace through the stretch?
She has two wins at a mile and a quarter so there's no reason to believe this mile and an eighth event is too far for her liking. Victor Espinoza gets the call for trainer B.D.A Cecil.
8 Zenyatta Street Cry (Ire) Smith Shirreffs 127
Fourteen wins from fourteen starts. Twelve of the wins are graded efforts. The last outing a win in the Breeders' Cup Classic annihilating the boys with a tremendous turn of foot through the stretch at a mile and a quarter.
There are two knocks against Zenyatta for handicappers of this race.
1. She carries high weight of 127lbs.
2. It's her first race since November 7th.
To answer those questions.
1. Zenyatta hasn't carried less than 122lbs since May of 2008 - weight should not be a factor.
2. Well, here's a two-part response:
2A - In the 2008 Milady Handicap, Zenyatta faced Life is Sweet in her first start of 2009 off a six-month layoff and Zenyatta won handily.
2B - A regular string of works going back to Jan25th includes two bullet efforts that suggest the lady is in form.
What an incredible animal.
Zenyatta wins the Clement Hirsch by a head - the closest she's come to losing
9 Floating Heart Giant’s Causeway Talamo Pletcher 111
This one put together a pair of nice allowance wins in the Fall of 2009 and then took a stab at the G2 Bayokoa Hanciap finishing a closing fourth beaten just two lengths by Zardana. The third place finisher in that event - Cat by the Tale - came back to win.
Floating Heart opened her 2010 campaign with a third place finish in the Paseana Handicap won by St. Trinians and followed that up with another third place finish in the La Canada.
She keeps on closing at the leaders but is a low 90s Beyer figure the top of her potential?
A march 8th workout of 5F in 1:00.40 has her sharp for this race, but it's hard to imagine her closing faster than Zenyatta.
Floating Heart closes to be fourth in the Bayakoa Handicap
The verdict? Sorry to disappoint but I can't go against Zenyatta. How about trying a superfecta instead.
2. Pretty Unusual
3. Gripsholm Castle
4. Floating Heart/Striking Dancer
A story in the Vancouver Sun advises that the Queen could well be in attendance for the 2010 Queen's Plate.
The race, almost always run on the last Sunday in June, has been pushed this year to July 4, when the Queen is expected to be on the Ontario leg of a Canadian tour that will also include stops in Manitoba and Nova Scotia.
"There is no question we hope the Queen will come, but haven't heard confirmation from the palace," said Glen Crouter, chief spokesman for Toronto's Woodbine racetrack, home of the event since the 1950s. "We keep our fingers crossed."
Queen's Plate contender Where's The Fire breezed 3F in 36.20 on the Woodbine dirt training track March 12. Rank 10/91
Keep an eye out for Cognashene in the 7th race at Fair Grounds Saturday. The Sam-Son horse in on the also eligible list.
For more on Queen's Plate contenders, check out the Plate Contenders tab at the top of the page.
Four-year-old Merkabah isn't a Plate contender but he could be a good one for trainer Kevin Attard. The Knob Hill Stables Theatrical colt wired a 1M 1/16 turf MSW at Gulfstream in 1:41.10 earning an 86 Beyer Figure at odds of 14 to 1.
Merkabah breaks his maiden at Gulfstream
Happy handicapping good readers. As a special parting gift, here's video of Rachel Alexandra's awesome performance in the 2009 Kentucky Oaks