Paradise Woods punches Cup ticket in Zenyatta

Horse Racing

ARCADIA, Calif. — Paradise Woods returned Saturday to where she became all the rage, and the friendly confines of Santa Anita served her well as she erased two disappointing previous tries with a runaway victory in the Grade 1, $294,000 Zenyatta Stakes, earning her a fees-paid berth to the Breeders’ Cup Distaff on Nov. 3 at Del Mar.

Even though this was the first start for Paradise Woods against older females, she benefitted from a small field that was void of other early speed. With regular rider Flavien Prat up, Paradise Woods opened a commanding early lead while setting a solid pace of 46.89 seconds for the first half-mile. She turned back a bid from Faithfully on the far turn, then kicked clear in upper stretch before checking in 5 1/4 lengths the best in 1:44.34 for 1 1/16 miles on the fast main track.

Motown Lady was another 13 1/4 lengths back in third, and it was another 9 1/4 lengths to last-place Midnight Toast.

Rockport Babe and Shenandoah Queen were both scratched earlier in the day.

Even though Paradise Woods likely will receive a Beyer Speed Figure shy of the gaudy 107 she earned with her dazzling win in the Santa Anita Oaks in April, this was a significant step, as she had bombed in her two races after the Santa Anita Oaks. She was 11th of 14 when favored in the Kentucky Oaks, then sixth of seven at odds-on in the Grade 3 Torrey Pines at Del Mar when returning from a 3 1/2-month layoff.

Her trainer, Richard Mandella, admitted he felt more relief than joy over the win.

“It is relief,” he said in the winner’s circle. “I was worried something would go wrong again, but it went right.

“She kind of went south mentally. We had to get her through some hard times, and we did.”

Mandella credited Marty Wygod – who co-owns Paradise Woods with Wygod’s wife, Pam, and Steven Sarkowsky – with convincing him to return in the two-turn Zenyatta rather than a sprint.

Regardless, the goal with Paradise Woods if she ran well this time was the Distaff, a race Mandella won in both 2013 and last year with the great Beholder. Among those Paradise Woods is scheduled to face are the nation’s top two older mares, Stellar Wind and Forever Unbridled.

Paradise Woods is 3, the same age at which Beholder won the Distaff for the first time.

Paradise Woods, by Union Rags, was bred by Sarkowsky’s late father, Herman. She has now won three times in six starts, and the $180,000 first-prize Saturday increased her career bankroll to $473,545.

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