she came, she saw…

After nine wins in nine starts at Emerald Downs, four-year-old Curlin filly Stopshoppingdebbie ventured south.  Initially trainer Tom Wenzel was deciding between the Zenyatta Stakes (GI) and the L. A. Woman Stakes (GIII); he had options, since Stopshoppingdebbie had raced well at both sprint and route distances.  He opted for the sprint, and sent her out in Saturday’s L. A. Woman.  Sprint or route, win or lose, I was excited to see that she was shipping to Santa Anita and trying tougher company.

Things looked good for her.  She shipped down to Santa Anita the last week of September, and put up a sharp workout on September 30.  Still, it was a new surface for her, and a significant rise in class from the horses she had been facing in Washington.

Unfortunately, the race did not turn out as well for as her connections and fans hoped.

Even after her fifth place finish, the fact remains: Tom Wenzel and Northwest Farms did the right thing by going to Santa Anita to run her in the L. A. Woman.  It was the right thing for two reasons.

First, it was great to see her against tougher company.  If she had retired after only repeatedly winning at Emerald Downs, everyone would have been left to wonder what might have been.  Undefeated is fun, but untested leaves open so many questions.  She came to Santa Anita for a test.  It turned out she did not pass that test.  Why?  Jockey Rocco Bowen suggested she wasn’t getting a great handle of the track.  Trainer Tom Wenzel concurred about the surface as a possibility, and also said she bled some.  It could have been any of those things…and as long as she comes out of the race sound, whether she races again or joins Goin to the Window and Blueberry Smoothie in the broodmare band sometime soon, the fact remains that she had a chance against tougher runners.  Of course, there are always”what if” questions left: what if she didn’t bleed, or she handled the track better, or a million other things.  However, they’re the same “what if” questions that always pop up after races, the same questions that arise when any horse is raced or tested and may not have done as well as they had in the past.  They are questions that I, as a fan, would rather be pondering than “what if she ever actually ran outside Emerald?”

The second reason has to do with the race itself, the placement.  There has been Breeders’ Cup chatter from her connections since April, and yet she kept running at Emerald.  It seemed they were running out of time, but there was a plan.  Her connections considered both that race and the Zenyatta, and they chose properly.  The L. A. Woman allowed for an extra week of prep.  Also, even though neither race drew as tough as it could have, the one they chose drew some nice enough fillies but kept her out of the way of the likes of Beholder and Iotapa.  No matter what happened on race day, the plan was a good one: what she had done at Emerald fit the field in the L. A. Woman, and she came in with good enough sprint performances to justify it.  As much of a rise in class that race was compared to stakes at Emerald, either the Breeders’ Cup Distaff or the Breeders’ Cup Sprint would be an even more momentous class rise for her.

What’s next for Stopshoppingdebbie?  Trainer Wenzel has been quoted by Emerald Downs media as saying that it does not look like the Breeders’ Cup is in the cards now.  As much as I had been hoping she would sail through the L. A. Woman and on to the Breeders’ Cup…this is exactly why her connections did it right by sending her to the prep race first.  It let them see how she handled the track and the company before sending her to the hoopla and even tougher company of the last weekend in October.  Word is coming out that the race may have been her last…disappointing because I’d love to see her go out a winner, but likely the best thing for her in light of the fact that she bled after the race.

Santa Anita happened.  Stopshoppingdebbie came, and she saw.  She by no definition conquered, but that does nothing to take away from what she has done over the last three seasons.  Showing up and winning nine times in a row from ages two to four is an achievement, no matter where she did it.  She has talent, and she has consistency.  All we can hope is that she comes out of the race physically okay, and that her connections will make a reasoned choice as to what is next for her.  Knowing how they have handled her campaign to date, I have all faith that they will.

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