Zenyatta, Rachel matchup worth $5M

In the boldest move yet to bring Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta together for the first time in a race, Oaklawn Park president Charles Cella has announced that the purse of the April 3 Apple Blossom will be raised to $5 million if both horses start. If just one of the pair starts, the purse of the race will revert to its original $500,000. The race will now be called the Apple Blossom Invitational, and its distance has been extended to 1 1/8 miles from 1 1/16 miles. The Apple Blossom, for fillies and mares 4 years old and up, was scheduled to be a handicap, but now all horses will carry 123 pounds.

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Cella said he has had multiple conversations with Jess Jackson, the owner of Rachel Alexandra, and Jerry Moss, the owner of Zenyatta. “Both of them have told me they embrace the idea,” he said. If both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta start, the $5 million purse would put the Apple Blossom on a par with the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the richest race in North America. The additional purse money of the race would be financed by Cella and the Arkansas Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. Rachel Alexandra was crowned Horse of the Year for 2009 in January, while the undefeated Zenyatta won the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita in her last start Nov. 7. Both horses have won at Oaklawn. Rachel Alexandra is 2 for 2 in Hot Springs, having accounted for both the Grade 2 Fantasy and the Martha Washington at the track in 2009. Zenyatta’s lone start outside of California came at Oaklawn, in 2008, when she won the Apple Blossom. Oaklawn has a dirt track, which Jess Jackson, the owner of Rachel Alexandra, prefers over synthetic racing surfaces. Zenyatta breezed five furlongs in 1:01.60 at Hollywood Park on Wednesday, and following the work her connections said she could make her first start of the year in the Grade 1 Santa Margarita at Santa Anita on March 13. They have mentioned the Apple Blossom as a possible second start for Zenyatta. Rachel Alexandra has not raced since winning the Grade 1 Woodward at Saratoga on Sept. 5. She had her first published work last Sunday at Fair Grounds, breezing four furlongs in 52 seconds. Plans for her campaign have not been announced, but Fair Grounds has a $200,000 stakes for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on its March 13 schedule.

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At the Eclipse Awards, however, Jackson, said Rachel Alexandra’s projected return to the races has been delayed because of some missed training due to wet weather at Fair Grounds. The connections of both horses have expressed a desire for the two to meet. The Oaklawn offer is one of two significant pitches in the region to bring Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta together. Sam Houston Race Park in Houston will put up a maximum purse of $2 million if the two were to start in the track’s Gallery Furniture Distaff that has a tentative, negotiable date of March 27.

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