Private Mission’s Zenyatta Stakes triumph keeps Bob Baffert on winning roll

Trainer Bob Baffert completed the trifecta of winning the biggest race on each of the first three days of Santa Anita’s Fall Meeting. And with it, the three winners all got expenses-paid berths into the Breeders’ Cup races at Del Mar on Nov. 5-6.

Sunday showcased the talents of Private Mission, who easily handled the eight-horse field in the Grade 2 $200,000 Zenyatta Stakes for fillies and mares going 1 1/16 miles. She has now qualified for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, the most prestigious race for female horses on Nov. 6. It was the fourth win in five starts.

On Friday, Baffert won the American Pharoah Stakes, for 2-year-old colts and geldings, with Corniche, who wired the field to win by 3 ¼ lengths in the Breeders’ Cup qualifying race for the Juvenile. Medina Spirit, the conditional winner of the Kentucky Derby, turned heads with an effortless five-length win in the Awesome Again Stakes on Saturday.

Sunday’s win by Private Mission looked easy in retrospect even the 3-year-old filly looked vulnerable until the top of the stretch. It was at that point that jockey Flavien Prat let her loose and she cruised to a 2 1/4-length win in the 1 1/16-mile race.

Private Mission paid $4.20, $2.40 and $2.20. As Time Goes By, also trained by Baffert, finished second followed by Miss Bigly, Stellar Sound, Lady Kate, Samurai Charm, Miss Stormy D and California Kook.

Both Private Mission and Medina Spirit were originally scheduled to run Sept. 25 in $1 million races in Pennsylvania but Baffert scratched the horses after the draw. Baffert initially said he didn’t like Medina Spirit’s draw but later said he thought the colt needed another week. Private Mission was just collateral damage in that transaction.

“I’m glad I stayed home with her,” Baffert said on Sunday. “I decided this would be best for her with the Breeders’ Cup in mind. We didn’t want to stress her. She’s on the improve, getting better and better.”

The fact that all three Baffert horses got free passes to the Breeders’ Cup is not a certainty but likelihood. Medina Spirit, winner of the Kentucky Derby, tested positive for an overage of a legal anti-inflammatory medication after winning the Kentucky Derby. It was Baffert’s fifth medication violation in a year.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has not formally charged Baffert of any violation but Churchill Downs, host of the Kentucky Derby, suspended the hall of fame trainer for two years from running at its tracks. The decree is likely to end up in litigation.

The Breeders’ Cup announced it would look into Baffert’s eligibility to run in its two-day championship but did not disclose the process or timetable it would use to make that determination. Some on the board of the organization of owners and breeders have used Baffert as their trainer in past years.

It would be a bold move to ban a trainer who has been allowed to run at Del Mar, this year’s Breeders’ Cup host. It would also not be popular to force owners to find new trainers less than a month before the most important racing weekend of the year.

The Zenyatta was the seventh Breeders’ Cup “win-and-your-in” races this weekend at Santa Anita. The organization promises a waiver of fees and some reimbursement of expenses.

In the other graded stakes race on Sunday, the Grade 3 $100,000 Chillingworth Stakes for fillies and mares going 6 ½ furlongs, Victor Espinoza ran a perfect race aboard Ce Ce, who bided her time until the far turn before making a move and win by five lengths. The 5-year-old mare is trained by Michael McCarthy.

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