Rachel, Zenyatta at Oaklawn? Hold your horses

On the surface, Oaklawn Park President Charles Cella’s offer to raise the purse of the Apple Blossom Handicap from $500,000 to $5 million if both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta start in the April 3 race for older fillies and mares seems like a great opportunity to get these two talented distaffers on the track together.

But let’s hang on a second. It might not work.

It’s far more plausible at this point that Zenyatta will make the race. She had been in light training since her historic Breeders’ Cup Classic victory on Nov. 7 and is now breezing in earnest for what is expected to be her 2010 debut in the $250,000 Santa Margarita Handicap on March 13 at Santa Anita.

The Apple Blossom, which would be increased from 1 1/16 to 1 1/8 miles and undergo a name change to the Apple Blossom Invitational, is three weeks after the Santa Margarita, which would be a good tuneup for Zenyatta. She’s always had at least four weeks between starts, but the shorter three-week gap shouldn’t be a problem.

The problem is Rachel Alexandra, who was off from Sept. 5 — the date of her victory over older males in the Woodward Stakes — until last weekend, when she breezed four furlongs in an easy 52 seconds at the Fair Grounds, which has written a special $200,000 stakes race for her comeback on the same day as the Santa Margarita.

Will Rachel be ready to go on March 13? If not, there’s no way she will make the Apple Blossom unless her connections decide to make the race her 2010 debut. That’s about as likely as me riding one of the two horses when they meet. Rachel’s camp will want to have a prep race, like Zenyatta’s run in the Santa Margarita, before a meeting that could be the most anticipated horse race ever.

I hope it happens. But I have huge doubts that it will. At this point, I’d says it’s a little less than 50-50 they will meet in the Apple Blossom, which will revert back to its original conditions if one of the two doesn’t show.

It says here Zenyatta is a likely participant, but that Rachel’s extended layoff and late return to the track because of severe weather in New Orleans make it less likely the 2009 Horse of the Year will be there.

But don’t despair. There are quite a few spots they could meet in the next few months, including the $300,000 La Troienne Stakes at Churchill Downs on Derby weekend. I’m sure Churchill officials could ante up much like Oaklawn did and make the purse large enough that third place was lucrative enough for other fillies and mares to show up. They could also increase the race’s distance from 1 1/16 miles to 1 1/8 like the Apple Blossom.

That seems a much more likely race for these two horses to hook up. Zenyatta will have raced in both the Santa Margarita and Apple Blossom and Rachel will by then have had a chance to run in a prep for the big showdown. We want both of these standouts to be at 100 percent when they square off, nothing less.

It’s going to happen, it’s just a matter of when.

What do you think?

2 thoughts on “Rachel, Zenyatta at Oaklawn? Hold your horses

  1. Agreed. The Apple Blossom is far too much of a disadvantage for Rachel Alexandra. Plus, I doubt that Jess Jackson will ever let her meet Zenyatta on the track. Too much ego and he doesn’t want to run the risk of getting trounched like Curlin. Remember, he’s still spouting off excuses over that loss to this day. Both are great and the fans will have to leave it at that I guess.

  2. Rachel Alexandra has not raced in over 5 months and has but two light breezes to date. It appears that she will be able (if all goes well) to make a start at the FG in mid-late March, probably at a mile.

    All indications are that Rachel is on an abbreviated race schedule which would include 5-6 starts in 2010, culminated by a farewell appearance in the BC Classic at CD. Assmussen definitely wants his star performer at her peak when it most counts—at the end of the year.

    There is simply no way that RA will be asked to do too much early in the campaign. My best guess is that after one start at the FG, RA will likely be seen under silks at Churchill (a track she loves), quite possibly on Derby Day.

    Match Races are seldom proof of anything in that seldom are both performers at their best. There have been numerous instances as such: Armed vs. Assault and Swaps vs. Nashua are two prime examples.

    Let the racing world enjoy the appearances of both stars. It may be a long time before we are fortunate enough to see the likes of these two gems.

    Should they wind up in a confrontation, great. So be it. But if not, hey, it’s been a pleasure watching each one individually.

    Enjoy the moment.

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