It wasn't just another Friday afternoon at Hollywood Park, as Zenyatta's sister, Eblouissante, lived up to the hype to win in brilliant fashion by 4 1/4-lengths in her debut against seven other three-year-old fillies in a maiden allowance race at 1 1/16-miles on the main track.
"It's like something clicked and she knew she was supposed to catch the horses in front of her," said trainer John Shirreffs after the race. "She has so many mannerisms like Zenyatta. It's a thrill, we're very excited about her. She's such a beautiful race horse."
After beginning her career with a win at Hollywood Park nearly five years ago to the day, Zenyatta went on to win 18 more races in a row for Sherriffs including the 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic (Grade I). Her only defeat came a year later when trying to repeat in the Classic, but she was still named 2010 Horse of the Year and finished with career earnings of $7.3 million.
Listed at 4-to-1 on the morning line, it was no surprise to see Eblouissante backed heavily by the public and go off as the 7-to-5 favorite. The win earned the daughter of Bernardini out of the super star-producing mare Vertigineux $27,000 for owner/breeder E N Kronfeld, who also bred Zenyatta, but sold her at auction for $60,000.
"He (Sherriffs) said to get her in that high rhythm and wherever you're at don't worry about it," said jockey Corey Nakatani. "She broke really good, more alert and into the race than we thought she'd actually be."
Zenyatta's signature was coming from last to first to win and while Eblouissante had one horse beat early, the style in which she won was reminiscent to what her sister became famous for.
"I was pretty in hand where I was at. She was moving well underneath me so I opted to get behind Rafael (Bejarano), who I think was on one of the (good) horses to follow," said Nakatani, referring to 5-to-2 second choice Belonging, owned by Zenyatta's owners Mr. and Mrs. J S Moss, who finished fourth.
Going into the turn for home, Eblouissante started picking off runners with ease, like Zenyatta used to, and collared the pace-setter Saturday Nite Ride, trained by Bob Baffert, as they straightened up.
"Turning for home, I let her out a little bit to get to the position I wanted to be in so she could kick on and do her thing. She did everything we asked her to and it felt so easy it was scary," said Nakatani.
Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith was aboard Zenyatta for her final 17 races, but Nakatani got the call aboard Eblouissante. He and Shirreffs have won a bunch of races together over the last two decades and have had tremendous success lately, winning six of the 11 times they have teamed up over the last two years.
"Anytime you get to ride the sister or brother to a champion, it's a pleasure to get on horses like those, especially at this stage in my career," said the 42-year-old Nakatani. "John and I go way back and have been very lucky together so I thank him for the chance."
A first-level allowance is the likely next step for Eblouissante. That may happen at the current Hollywood Park meet that ends December 16, may wait until we move back to Santa Anita on the day after Christmas or may occur outside of California if Sherriffs decides he wants no part of what has been a speed-favoring main track at Santa Anita.
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