Rivalry between defending champ Elle Z and Yes It’s Ginger will begin with test at the front in Saturday’s Pan Zareta
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Reversal of Form in 2021 Pan Zareta?
Last Year’s Longshot Winner Haunts What Several Connections Hope to be a Revelation of Form
Rivalry between defending champ Elle Z and Yes It’s Ginger will begin with test at the front
New Orleans, LA (December 2, 2021) – A ghost of Christmas past is oft-mentioned each December around Fair Grounds. Not just because she died on Christmas Day, but for the way she died and the tragedy of a career and lineage cut short. Pan Zareta, North America’s record-holder with 76 wins, caught a deadly case of pneumonia at age 8. She had transitioned from racing to become a broodmare, but after failing to get in foal, she was returned to training at Fair Grounds. And at Fair Grounds she remains, buried under the infield grass and celebrated every year by the circuit’s best turf sprinting fillies and mares in the $75,000 Pan Zareta Stakes.
A quality field of 11 female turf sprinters are programmed for Saturday’s feature at Fai Grounds Race Course & Slots. M Bar O LLC’s Elle Z, Mike Diliberto’s lukewarm morning line favorite at 7-2, and Brilliant Racing & Tagg Team Racing’s Yes It’s Ginger (5-1) have met a few times before. 10 dominant lengths between them when they first met, favoring Elle Z. 1 and 1/4 gallant lengths between them favoring Yes It’s Ginger in their most recent. With a final time .045 seconds off the Ellis Park course record that day, Yes It’s Ginger’s connections aimed for Fall graded stakes at Kentucky Downs and Keeneland. Neither came up well for Yes It’s True’s five-year-old mare.
“I don’t think she cared for the surface that day [at Keeneland],” trainer Greg Foley said. “You kinda got to throw that race out. Even the Kentucky Downs race before, a little further than she wants to go. She came out of the races fine and we’ve freshened her up in between. She looks good, coat’s good, and hopefully she’ll be good on Saturday–we think she will.”
Looking at the last two races, bettors might assume Yes It’s Ginger’s form has departed as well. 6 ½ furlongs runs more like 7 furlongs at Kentucky Downs, then she ran in the drenched and downpouring conditions at Keeneland. Good excuses? Yes, but the fields have not corroborated the case made. Besides Change of Control, no other of the 22 horses faced have won since, and speed figures have regressed for those that have won. Will this be the return to her masterful Ellis Park performance?
“I think that’s the same kind of setup we’re hoping for Saturday,” Foley said. “She ran a really big race that day–you felt good every step of the way.”
Stories of the Pan Zareta’s wins almost always begin, “She broke to the lead…” There’s no other spot a turf sprint champion wants to be, right?
In Saturday’s 56th running of the Queen of Turf’s eponymous stakes race, the catbird seat looks to be just off the pace and to the outside. And if things go according to Yes It’s Ginger’s connections’ designs, that’s where she’ll be sitting.
“Elle Z’s awfully quick, you gotta think she’ll be in front,” said trainer Greg Foley. “There’s one or two other pretty fast fillies also, so we’re towards the outside post, that ought to be a great post for her to sit and pounce on them before the other kickers.”
Marcelino Pedroza, a go-to rider for Team Foley, will pilot Yes It’s ginger from post 7.
Yes, it’s true: Pan Zareta is buried in the infield at Fair Grounds. Stories have it that on the coldest nights in New Orleans, her hooves can be heard pounding the turf track in winning style. But that’s not the only past Fair Grounds winner who hopes to return to form this Saturday.
Elle Z, the winner of last year’s Pan Zareta Stakes (13.30-1), has not won on turf since. Her races coming in almost mirror her 2020 run-up: overmatched turf effort, disappointing dirt performance, surprise turf win, and then stakes to follow. Only this year, the Keeneland turf course did not cooperate and she is not entering off a win.
“This is a little bit different this year because I gave her a freshening and then tried to run her a couple of times at Keeneland but it was rained off or too soft, so she missed two races,” trainer Chris Hartman explains.”
Instead, she ran into Bell’s The One, who many believe would have won the Breeders Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.
“I ended up in that race there, which was not intentional,” Hartman said. “I had no intention of running her in that race, but seeing that she hadn’t run in such a long time and she was really sharp and everything we decided to give her a spin. It was a really really tough race and she got smacked around in there. Now she’s back to her preferred surface and preferred distance.”
Breaking from the rail, Hartman’s regular rider Mitchell Murrill has the mount.
Besides Elle Z, according to running style we can assume the ghost of Pan Zareta favors the filly to Yes It’s Ginger’s inside: Love and Money (Brian Hernandez Jr, post 6). Trained by Cherie DeVaux and owned by Lael Stable, this daughter of More Than Ready has put three lengths over her competition by the ¼ pole in her last two races. Summering in Saratoga, she tried going two turns on the inner turf, including the $120,000 Riskaverse.
“If you fight with her,” DeVaux said, “she does not take well to being restrained, which is why stretching her out didn’t work. She gets keen early and then settles down.”
Moving up from first-level allowance company at Keeneland, she will have to face pressure unlike anything she has faced before.
“She has natural speed so she is going to do what she is going to do,” said DeVaux. “If there are horses in front of her, I don’t think it’s going to bother her.”
Would be a fitting end to this ghost story to see Ghosting Kim flying across the grass late. Drawn at post 9 with her regular rider James Graham up, last out she ran best to lose the photo—losing ground in her closing charge after having to angle out twice from behind traffic.
Or maybe Saturday’s winner will find her form from her pedigree. Pan Zareta’s tragic demise left us without her progeny to carry on her winning ways. Not the case for the dam Leigh Court who sends out first foal, Advocating from post 4. Winner of the 2016 turf sprint Mardi Gras Satkes, her filly by Uncle Mo will try 5 ½ furlongs on the grass for the first time. Trained by Michael Stidham with three wins out of six races, Advocating has tired in the last furlong going two turns in her last two races.
Elle Z’s early speed is the most dangerous–she has the rail and will send.
“She’s fast, man. Some of those others might think they’re fast. They might enter but they’ll be working hard to do it,” Hartman said. “She’s fast. The fastest horse on the inside will be ideal.”
But she won’t be alone. Look for the 56th winner to come from off the pace and listen for the ghost of Pan Zareta this winter when the New Orleans nights slow to a frost-bitten standstill.
Post time is 4:42 CT for the Pan Zareta Stakes. The nice race card begins at 1:05 CT.
About Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots
Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, one of the nation’s oldest racetracks, has been in operation since 1872. Located in New Orleans, LA, Fair Grounds, which is owned by Churchill Downs Incorporated (NASDAQ Global Select Market: CHDN), also operates a slot-machine gaming facility and 15 off-track betting parlors throughout Southeast Louisiana. The 150th Thoroughbred Racing Season – highlighted by the 109th running of the Louisiana Derby – will run from November 25, 2021 through March 27, 2022. More information is available online at www.fairgroundsracecourse.com