Owner Jess Jackson announced late Thursday night that 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, scheduled to square off against the unbeaten Zenyatta in what shapes up as the race of the past half-century in the Apple Blossom Invitational on April 9 at Oaklawn Park, will make her 2010 debut in the $200,000 New Orleans Ladies for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles at the Fair Grounds on March 13.
Zenyatta, 14-0 and the first female to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic, is also scheduled to make her season debut on March 13 in the $250,000 Grade 1 Santa Margarita Handicap at Santa Anita — a 1 1/8-mile race for older fillies and mares on the synthetic Pro-Ride surface.
“That is our intended goal,” Jackson said. “I believe she’s on schedule and she’ll get the prep race before she goes on to Oaklawn. There are other tracks that have offered to have us go, but right now we’d rather stay here.”
Rachel Alexandra has been stabled at the Fair Grounds during a wet and cold winter. She’s had two works since being put back into training following a five-month layoff after she beat males for the third time last year in the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga on Sept. 5. She breezed four furlongs in 50 3/5 seconds last Saturday.
“We’re obviously thrilled by the news that Rachel Alexandra, already a legend based on her accomplishments last year, intends to make her 2010 debut at Fair Grounds,” Fair Grounds Vice President and General Manager Eric Halstrom said. “We are already working to make sure March 13 will be a special day befitting of racing royalty.”
Fair Grounds management added the New Orleans Ladies to the stakes schedule last fall, hoping to lure Rachel Alexandra, 8-0 last year, for her 4-year-old debut. It looks like they’ll get their wish, showcasing the fabulous filly in front of New Orleans racing fans.
Jackson is hoping that the race attracts a solid field of fillies and mares.
“I’d really like to have more than just nominal competition in the race,” Jackson said. “Assuming it’s a fair race I don’t expect Rachel to have any trouble, but at the same time, regardless of whether they’re superstars or not, it embellishes the track’s reputation and Rachel’s reputation to have the best possible competition.”
Jackson hopes the weather lets up so Rachal Alexandra can keep up a regular routine and make the New Orleans Ladies.
“It’s not anyone’s fault, but with the rain and the track conditions it’s been a serious setback to Rachel’s routine,” Jackson said. “When you’re training a horse it’s an animal that needs to have a regular routine, and Steve’s been hard-pressed to keep her going given the weather. When we do get her to the track it’s well maintained, but she’s behind schedule and that means we’re compressed to try to get everything done and keep her on schedule leading up to works and preparing her for a major competition at Oaklawn.”
Of course, the Apple Blossom would lose some of its luster if either Zenyatta or Rachel Alexandra were to lose their prep race, although fans of both horses would still turn out in force to watch their favorite at Oaklawn Park.