$5 Million Offered If Zenyatta & Rachel Meet

$5 Million Is Offered If Zenyatta & Rachel Alexandra Meet

In an attempt to bring Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta together for the first time, Oaklawn Park in Arkansas announced Thursday that it would increase the purse of the April 3 Apple Blossom Invitational to $5 million if the two female stars competed in the race.

Neither camp has made a firm commitment to start in the Apple Blossom, but Charles Cella, Oaklawn’s president, said that he had discussed the race with the owners Jerry Moss and Jess Jackson and that both said they were enthusiastic about the idea.

“My family and I would love to see her run at Oaklawn Park,” Jackson, the owner of Rachel Alexandra, said in a statement. “If she is in top form and it fits in our schedule, we will be there. Rachel, as you know, likes the track, having won twice there last year.”

Moss, who along with his wife, Ann, owns Zenyatta, said this week that he would “love to be there,” when asked about running his champion mare in the Apple Blossom.

The $5 million purse would be the richest for a race restricted to female horses.

The distance of the race has also been changed, from a mile and a sixteenth to a mile and an eighth. The race was formerly known as the Apple Blossom Handicap, but by making it an invitational, all horses will carry the same weight. If the race remained a handicap, the top horses would have to carry more.

And if either Zenyatta or Rachel Alexandra does not start, the Apple Blossom’s purse will revert to $500,000.

Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta are widely considered two of the best female horses ever. Neither lost in 2009 and both beat male horses. Rachel Alexandra topped males in the Preakness Stakes, the Haskell Invitational and the Woodward Stakes. Zenyatta concluded her year with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic over males, winning with an electrifying stretch run. But that was not enough for her to wrest the 2009 Horse of the Year title, which went to Rachel Alexandra in a closely contested race that left fans of both horses clamoring for a showdown.

The purse, of which $3 million would go to the winner, is not the only reason the Apple Blossom may be a good fit for both horses. Oaklawn is the only racetrack both have competed over, and both won their races there easily, an indication they should have no problem with the track surface. Oaklawn is also a traditional dirt surface, the only type of track Jackson has been willing to run his filly over.

Neither horse has started this year, but both are training for their 2010 debuts. Neither owner has said where the horses will race next, but it is likely both will want a prep race before a possible confrontation in the Apple Blossom. The trainer John Shirreffs has said that the March 13 Santa Margarita at Santa Anita could be Zenyatta’s next race. Rachel Alexandra could run the same day at the Fair Grounds in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes.

Oaklawn should have no trouble getting additional horses to compete in the Apple Blossom. Though other owners and trainers might be reluctant to race against Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, $500,000 will go to the horse that finishes third, which should be a lucrative incentive.

by Bill Finley
from nytimes.com


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