Rachel Alexandra vs. Zenyatta is off, for now
LOS ANGELES (AP)
Rachel Alexandra won't be going to Arkansas next month to face Zenyatta in their highly anticipated $5 million showdown, leaving racing's other female superstar to take on all comers.
Rachel Alexandra's owner, Jess Jackson, said Sunday that his 2009 Horse of the Year is not in top form after her defeat in the New Orleans Ladies at the Fair Grounds. So the scheduled meeting between racing's most talked about horses is off, leaving the spotlight to Zenyatta on April 9 in the Apple Blossom Invitational at Oaklawn Park.
``Yesterday's race, while a disappointment, helped us define Rachel Alexandra's racing condition,'' Jackson said in a statement. ``While she is healthy, just as I had anticipated, she is not in top form. Therefore, I decided today she will not be going'' to Oaklawn for the race.
Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta were making their first starts of the year Saturday in what were supposed to be prep races for next month's event, which saw its purse raised to $5 million from $500,000 only if both horses started.
``Money is no object for Mr. Jackson. He wants the best for the horse,'' Rachel Alexandra's jockey Calvin Borel told The Associated Press by phone Sunday night. ``It would've been the best thing to ever happen to Oaklawn, but if you have no horse, you have nothing.''
Zenyatta's co-owner Jerry Moss said his 6-year-old mare will keep her schedule.
``We're disappointed that we're not going to be able to face each other in the Apple Blossom,'' he said Sunday from his California home. ``Hopefully, we can meet down the line. We respect both Steve (Asmussen) and Mr. Jackson as horsemen and they're going to do what's right for their horse. That's all anybody could ask for.''
Borel said he hopes Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta meet in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs this fall.
``That would be wonderful,'' he said. ``My filly loves Churchill and I think Zenyatta would run well there. I think that's where you'll see them.''
Oaklawn Park had been heavily advertising the race. The convention and visitor's bureau in Hot Springs said 50,000 trading cards featuring the horses were being printed, and hotel rooms in the resort area have been booked solid for weeks.
``Naturally, we are disappointed that Rachel Alexandra will not be here for the Apple Blossom Invitational,'' the track said in a statement. ``We wish her the best of luck on the rest of her 2010 racing campaign. We look forward to welcoming Zenyatta back to Arkansas as she attempts to equal Cigar and Citation's modern-day record of 16 consecutive unrestricted victories.''
While Zenyatta did her part in winning the Santa Margarita Handicap at Santa Anita for her 15th straight win, Rachel Alexandra was not as fortunate in her 4-year-old debut. The filly was beaten by Zenyatta's stablemate, Zardana. Both mares are trained by John Shirreffs.
Rachel Alexandra, trained by Asmussen, had seven timed workouts leading to Saturday's race, but weather problems may have compromised her training schedule.
``Steve and I discussed this fully and we now regret we tried to accelerate her training in order to meet the Apple Blossom schedule,'' Jackson said. ``We have a whole season before us to help define her greatness. She will tell us when her next race will be.''
Borel said Asmussen was rushed in preparing Rachel Alexandra for the Apple Blossom, and she got tired in her race Saturday.
``Steve said, 'Calvin, I got 80 percent. If she can win hands-down, go ahead and do it, but I don't want you to gun her,''' Borel said. ``I wasn't going to beat on her. She's too good of a filly to ruin something for the year.''
Zenyatta came into the Santa Margarita off a four-month rest. Jerry and Ann Moss had intended for her to retire and begin a breeding career after she became the first female to beat the boys and win the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic in November.
But they changed their minds in January and put her back into training.
Asked if she is better now than she was last year, Shirreffs said, ``How can you be better than perfect?''