John Shirreffs should love synthetic race tracks. He trains Zenyatta, who has won 11 of her 12 lifetime starts on the fake stuff. Two of the three artificial tracks in the Southland — Santa Anita and Del Mar — favor come-from-behinders like Zenyatta, who seems to close and win no matter the early splits.
But guess what? Shirreffs hates the synthetics tracks. He always has, and probably always will.
“I’m more into developing young horses, and I find that young horses really don’t like training on synthetic surfaces,” he said. “Synthetic surfaces are like training on Velcro, where the horse’s foot lands and it doesn’t slide, it just sticks to the ground. Depending upon how synthetic the surface is, they can’t rotate their foot into the track and push off. So if you can imagine running along flat-footed all the time without getting up on your toes and pushing off, I think that’s probably about how it would feel to a human.”
Shirreffs thinks Zenyatta would be much better on the dirt, which is sort of a frightening thought for opposing owners and trainers.
Also, Shirreffs is not happy about having to run his other talented distaffer, Life Is Sweet, in Saturday’s Lady’s Secret Stakes at Santa Anita against Zenyatta, who will be going for her 13th victory without defeat.
“My preference would have been to run Life Is Sweet on the grass, but Mr. Wygod (owner Martin Wygod) would prefer to run her on the main track,” Shirreffs said. “Pro-Ride favors turf horses a little bit. We saw that last year in the Breeders’ Cup, where horses coming off the turf ran exceedingly well on the Pro-Ride surface, so I think that’s what Marty is hoping will happen again.”
If Life Is Sweet, who won three graded stakes at Santa Anita last winter, including the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Invitational, reverts back to that form, she could be a tough customer for Zenyatta on Saturday.