$5 Million Dollar Race; Rachel vs Zenyatta
One day after a matchup of racing’s leading ladies fell apart, the owner of Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., worked out a compromise to match the champion females for the first time—in the $5 million Apple Blossom Invitational on April 9.
“The race is a go,” a delighted Charles Cella told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “Both parties have signed off on it. I feel like we’ve been through the ringer on this thing. Now, we’re really excited about it.
“This is truly a race for the ages.”
The surprising turn of events came less than 24 hours after Rachel Alexandra’s owner Jess Jackson said his filly was out of the 1 1/8th-mile race because she would not be in peak condition by April 3. Instead, Jackson proposed a three-race series in which the horses would meet, an offer Moss said he was never consulted about.
Cella said he worked the phones Wednesday night and Thursday morning trying to make his race a reality. He agreed to move the race to April 9—the day before the track’s signature event, the Arkansas Derby—and apparently Jackson was sold.
“We are delighted that the race is on for April 9 and want to especially thank Charles Cella and Oaklawn for moving the date,” Jackson said in a statement.
Zenyatta’s owner, Jerry Moss, had said his unbeaten mare would run in the Santa Margarita Handicap at Santa Anita on March 13 and then in the Apple Blossom.
“We appreciate and applaud Mr. Cella’s effort to make this happen, and we’ll all be excited about traveling to Oaklawn to watch a great race,” Moss told the AP on Thursday. “We’ve been focused all along on Oaklawn.”
Rachel Alexandra is training at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans and could make her first start of the year in mid-March.
The matchup has been the big story in racing for months, especially after Rachel Alexandra beat out Zenyatta for Horse of the Year.
Rachel went 8-0 last year, and beat the boys in the Preakness Stakes, the Haskell Invitational and the Woodward Stakes. The 6-year-old Zenyatta, 14-0 overall, capped her ’09 campaign by becoming the first female to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Last week, Cella said he would boost the Apple Blossom purse from $500,000 to $5 million if both Rachel and Zenyatta ran.
“The conditions stay the same,” Cella said. “Both connections felt they needed a little more time so they could run in a prep and I agreed to that.”
Oaklawn Park appears to be the best place for what would be one of racing’s biggest showdowns.
Zenyatta runs primarily on synthetic surfaces, but won the Apple Blossom on dirt two years ago. Rachel Alexandra won twice at Oaklawn last year, taking the Martha Washington Stakes and the Fantasy Stakes. Jackson kept Rachel Alexandra out of the Breeders’ Cup because he dislikes synthetic surfaces.