Truth be told, you can make a case for pretty much any filly or mare to win Sunday’s $200,000, Grade 2 Zenyatta Stakes at Santa Anita. At one time or another, most of the half-dozen entrants have demonstrated the ability and speed figures needed to excel at this level.
So who will emerge victorious in this 1 1/16-mile “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Nov. 2 Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Santa Anita? It depends on whether you favor encouraging recent performances from slightly slower contenders, or poor recent efforts from runners with greater potential to run a fast race.
For example, you could throw your support behind Ollie’s Candy (#4) and Secret Spice (#1), the top two finishers in the Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar July 28.
Ollie’s Candy is undefeated in two starts on dirt, while Secret Spice was a convincing winner of the Grade 1 Beholder Mile Stakes at Santa Anita back in March.
But the Clement L. Hirsch wasn’t a particularly fast race, producing modest speed figures of 94 (Beyer Speed Figure) and 98 (Brisnet). So from this perspective, it might be wise to respect Paradise Woods (#3), an inconsistent but occasionally brilliant mare who has shown elite form under the right circumstances.
Granted, Paradise Woods was no match for Ollie’s Candy and Secret Spice in the Clement L. Hirsch — after breaking slowly, she made a mild mid-race rally before flattening out to finish fourth, beaten by 7 ¾ lengths. But three starts back, Paradise Woods obliterated six rivals in the 1 1/8-mile, Grade 2 Santa Margarita Stakes, pulling clear to win by 10 ½ lengths with a 100 Beyer and a 105 Brisnet speed figure.
That wasn’t the first time Paradise Woods has dominated a major stakes race at Santa Anita. In 2017, she crushed future Kentucky Oaks winner Abel Tasman by 11 ¾ lengths in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks (earning a 107 Beyer), and later in the season, she won the Zenyatta Stakes (then a Grade 1) by 5 ¼ lengths with a 105 Beyer.
Paradise Woods has struggled to produce big efforts in consecutive starts, so her recent defeats could be considered encouraging — she hasn’t brought her “A” game since April and could be poised for a rebound while returning to Santa Anita. She’s posted some fast workouts in preparation for the Zenyatta, most notably traveling five-eighths of a mile in :59 3/5 on Sept. 23, and she’ll have up-and-coming jockey Abel Cedillo in the saddle for the first time.
For similar reasons, I consider La Force (#5) a prime candidate to hit the board in this year’s Zenyatta Stakes. Runner-up in the 2018 Zenyatta, La Force’s recent form has been muddied by a seventh-place finish in the Grade 2 John C. Mabee Stakes on turf, a surface on which she’s just 1-for-13. But back in June, she unleashed a big rally to defeat Paradise Woods by 1 ½ lengths in the Grade 2 Santa Maria Stakes at the same track and distance as the Zenyatta. The return to dirt (and Santa Anita) could be all La Force needs to bounce back, and take note, trainer Patrick Gallagher wins at a 30% rate with horses transitioning from turf to dirt.
Since the Zenyatta field is small with just six entrants, I suggest tackling the trifecta as a way to boost the prospective payoff. I’ll take a stand with Paradise Woods on top, hoping she breaks alertly and brings her best to this competitive race. Underneath, I’ll make La Force my key horse, requiring her to finish second or third in order to cash a ticket.
After I’ve placed my trifecta tickets, I’ll add a $1 superfecta using La Force, Ollie’s Candy, and Secret Spice equally underneath Paradise Woods.
Wagering Strategy on a $20 Budget
$4 trifecta: 3 with 1,4 with 5 ($8)
What to say at the betting window: Santa Anita, 5th race, $4 trifecta 3 with 1,4 with 5
$3 trifecta: 3 with 5 with 1,4 ($6)
What to say at the betting window: Santa Anita, 5th race, $3 trifecta 3 with 5 with 1,4
$1 superfecta: 3 with 1,4,5 with 1,4,5 with 1,4,5 ($6)
What to say at the betting window: Santa Anita, 5th race, $1 superfecta 3 with 1,4,5 with 1,4,5 with 1,4,5
Good luck, and enjoy the race!