ARCADIA, CA – Winless in over 16 months, Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum’s Vale Dori attended the early pace before taking command at the top of the stretch, then held off a late rally from La Force to take Sunday’s Grade 1, $300,000 Zenyatta Stakes at Santa Anita Park.
The Zenyatta is a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” event, with Vale Dori receiving an automatic berth in the Longines Distaff at Churchill Downs on Saturday, November 3.
Breaking sharply from post 4 under Joe Talamo at 11/1 odds, Vale Dori stalked off the rail while Shenandoah Queen posted fractions of :23.98, :48.02, and 1:12.35. Making her bid in the far turn, Vale Dori emerged onto the stretch with a slight lead and began inching away in midstretch. Though La Force was closing quickly along the outside, the Bob Baffert trainee proved too good to lose, winning by 3/4 of a length in a final time of 1:44.88 for the 9-furlong main track event.
Shenandoah Queen weakened in the stretch run but held third by 2 1/4 lengths over Lemoona. Perhaps the day’s biggest surprise was how poorly the 1/9 favorite Abel Tasman ran. The Distaff division leader struggled to load into the gate, broke poorly, and never ran better than fifth, which is where she finished, 10 1/2 lengths behind her winning stablemate. Fool’s Paradise completed the order of finish.
When asked about the poor performance by Abel Tasman, Baffert responded, “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.”
“Bob said to try and get her out, whether she’s first or second, and just get her into a real smooth rhythm,” said jockey Joe Talamo. “She was laying perfect right off of Tyler’s filly there and I had a lot of horse around the turn. I was just biding my time, just waiting for anyone to come before I let her loose and when I did, she really took off very nicely. I really thought Abel Tasman was going to come running but that’s horse racing for you.”
Vale Dori’s win was her first since taking the Grade 3 Adoration Stakes here on May 7 and improved her overall record to 21-10-6-2. The 5-year-old Argentinian-bred daughter of Asiatic Boy increased her lifetime earnings to $1,365,567.
Vale Dori returned $24.60 to win, $13.20 to place, and $40.60 to show. La Force brought back $8.40 to place and $14.60 to show, while Shenandoah Queen paid $26.60 to show. The large show payout discrepancies were due to Abel Tasman having collected $432,344 of the $474,680 total show pool.