Wednesday, February 10, 2010

So Rachel 'ducks' first

Unfair headline aside, the connections of 2009 Eclipse Award Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra have bowed out of a potential showdown with two-time champion female Zenyatta in the April 3 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park.

Oaklawn had offered a $5 million purse for the Grade 1 race -- and planned to extend the 8.5-furlong test to 9 furlongs for this year only -- provided both champion females would be entered. But Rachel's principal owner Jess Jackson, upon advice from trainer Steve Asmussen, said on Wednesday that just isn't going to happen.

Frankly, they have a good reason. Rachel Alexandra only recently began working again at Fair Grounds after sitting idle for several months following her historic Woodward Stakes win over older males in early September at Saratoga. Meanwhile, Zenyatta pretty much hasn't missed a beat since winning the Breeders' Cup Classic over males in November at Santa Anita. While retirement allegedly was in the offing, Zen kept working, and from her drills she seems sharp enough to walk onto the track and beat just about anybody, tomorrow.

So, with the date being Feb. 10, an April 3 showdown of such magnitude would clearly be in Zenyatta's favor. Rachel will need a race or two before she could be expected to run her best, and frankly, on her schedule, April 3 might be her first race back. Surely Zenyatta will have run at least once in California (and probably crushed a field) before then.

What next? Jackson says he's working with the NTRA on devising a three-race challenge for the top females, that would "to rival the Triple Crown." Unless some colt is poised to actually win that crown on Belmont Stakes day, it's safe to say that Jackson's statement is not hyperbolic. All racing eyes -- and many outside the sport -- will be on Rachel and Zen when they finally do hook up on a racetrack somewhere.

Still, I'm disappointed it won't be at Oaklawn, because I intended to be there as my next stop on the Unexpected Vacation Circuit.

1 comment:

  1. I think the Apple Blossom was always a long shot. Hopefully, however, no one will allow Jess Jackson to be in the driver's seat on this. He's very clever at arranging things in his favor while appearing to be magnanimous.....and then suing anyone who crosses him.

    I'd love to see RA and Zen meet, of course, but frankly prefer a natural race setting as opposed to a match race or series of matches. That idea holds too great a potential for disaster for me.


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