Rachel-Zenyatta Showdown Moves Forward

plus the Derby Dozen

An April showdown between 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra and undefeated Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Zenyatta became much more likely Thursday with the announcement by Oaklawn Park that the Apple Blossom would be moved back by six days.

Oaklawn’s decision made an impact on the Fair Grounds.

Steve Asmussen, trainer of Rachel Alexandra, said late Thursday that her scheduled first start as a 4-year-old would come March 13 in the New Orleans Ladies at the Fair Grounds. That new, $200,000 stakes race for older fillies and mares would be her prep for the Apple Blossom.

“That is the plan,’’ Asmussen said.

Eric Halstrom, Fair Grounds vice president/general manager for racing, said, "Needless to say, the opportunity to have Rachel run at the Fair Grounds is something we're thrilled to have, if that indeed does happen.’

Oaklawn Park President Charles Cella said in a release Thursday that the Apple Blossom has been moved from April 3 to April 9. According to the release, the change came after Cella had discussions Wednesday night and Thursday with Jess Jackson, primary owner of Rachel Alexandra, and Jerry Moss, co-owner of Zenyatta, about the situation.

The people behind Rachel Alexandra had expressed concerns that April 3 would be too soon for a race against Zenyatta.

“I think Mr. Cella deserves the credit for making this happen,’’ Asmussen said.

In an effort to lure Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta to the Apple Blossom, Oaklawn has offered to raise the purse from $500,000 to $5 million if both standouts start. Also, the distance has been lengthened from a mile and a sixteenth to a mile and an eighth, and the race has been made an invitational.

On Thursday morning, before the date change for the Apple Blossom was announced, Asmussen explained his concern with the original date.

“The earliest we can race her is mid-March,’’ he said then. “I don’t want to wheel her back in three weeks off her first race in six months. I don’t think anybody wants those mares coming back at anything but their best. They certainly deserve it.’’

In a release Wednesday, Jackson said that a request to Oaklawn to move the Apple Blossom back a week was denied. Oaklawn addressed the situation with the announcement Thursday.

“I understand the concerns of all competitors in needing a prep race and properly preparing for a race of this magnitude, especially in light of the weather we’ve been experiencing recently around the country,” Cella said in the release. “Both parties want this to happen when their champions are at their absolute peak. This date makes that possible.’’

Rachel Alexandra hasn ‘t raced since winning the Woodward in early September at Saratoga. She is training at the Fair Grounds, where in the last few weeks, she had her first two timed workouts this year. Both were easy, half-mile workouts. Weather permitting, she’s scheduled to work Friday morning.

Zenyatta is further along in her training than Rachel Alexandra.

Zenyatta hasn’t raced since early November, when she became the first female to win the Classic. Although Moss had said after the Classic that she had nothing more to prove and likely would be retired, she stayed in training. In January, the decision to race her this year was announced.

On Thursday, she worked six furlongs in 1:13 4-5 at Hollywood Park in her seventh workout since the Classic. The Santa Margarita on March 13 at Santa Anita is the planned prep race for her.

Jackson said in his Wednesday release that he’d like to see Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta meet in a series of races.

“The fans have spoken,’’ he said. “The media has spoken. Everyone wants to see Rachel race against Zenyatta - including me. In fact, I want it to happen several times this year.’’

by Bob Fortus
from nola.com


1. Lookin At Lucky Gomez/Baffertt 10-1 Won three Grade 1s last year, but has never raced on dirt; only one 2-year old champ won Derby since '70
2. Super Saver Undecided/Pletcher 15-1 By Maria's Mon out of A.P. Indy mare has great Derby pedigree and owns stakes win last year at Churchill Downs
3. Buddy's Saints Lezcano/Levine 12-1 Son of BC Classic winner Saint Liam is unbeaten in three starts, including Nashua and Remsen at Big A
4. Vale of York Ajtebi/Surooor 30-1 BC Cup Juvenile winer previous was stakes winner on turf in Europe; training in Dubai
5. Noble's Promises Undecided/McPeek 20-1 Won BC Futurity last year, was 3rd in BC Juvenile; had first work of year Sat at Gulfstream, 3f in :37
6. Jackson Bend Rose/Zito 20-1 Swept Fla Stallion Stakes last year at Calder, close 2nd as favorite in Jan 23 Holy Bull, his first start for Zito
7. Eskendereya Velazquez/Pletch 25-1 Unbeaten in both starts on dirt: big win in Pilgrim last year, and 3-year old debut at Gulfstream
8. Rule Velazquwez/Pletcher 30-1 Closed out 2-year old campaign with three straight wins, including a pair of stakes at Delta Downs
9. Ron the Greek Graham/Amoss 20-1 Has won 3 of 4 starts; rallied from last of 10 to win Jan 23 Lecomte, making up 15 lengths in stretch
10. Drosselmeyer Desormeaux/MOtt 40-1 Distorted Humor colt started his career on turf but has won two straight since switching to dirt.
11. American Lion Leparoux/Harty 30-1 Son of two-time BC Classic winner Tiznow won 2 of 3 last year, including Hollywood Prevue; has yet to go two turns
12. William's Kitten Leparoux/Maker 30-1 Has solid kick and edge in experience, with eight races under his belt; rallied for third in Holy Bull last out.

Today’s Hot Plays