Zardana upsets Rachel Alexandra at Fair Grounds

America’s most famous filly fizzled out and now the most

anticipated race of the year is no sure thing.

Rachel Alexandra lost her first start of 2010, beaten by

Zenyatta’s stablemate, Zardana, in Saturday’s $200,000 New Orleans

Ladies.

What was widely seen as a tune-up for Rachel Alexandra before

her showdown with unbeaten mare Zenyatta at the $5 million Apple

Blossom at Oaklawn on April 9, turned into a huge upset.

Zardana shocked the packed grandstand at the Fair Grounds Race

Course, edging past the 2009 Horse of the Year halfway down the

final stretch and holding on to win by 3-4 of a length.

“She was strong early and got tired,” Rachel Alexandra trainer

Steve Asmussen said. “I’m just disappointed she didn’t win today.

It was a lack of fitness and it’s our job to have her there and I

didn’t do it.”

It turned out to be a great day for John Shirreffs, who trains

both Zardana and Zenyatta – and watched the latter justify her

pre-Apple Blossom hype by winning the Santa Margarita Handicap at

Santa Anita to improve her lifetime record to 15-0.

Now, after tourism officials in Hot Springs, Ark., had announced

the printing of 50,000 trading cards of both Zenyatta and Rachel

Alexandra, it appears that Zardana could wind up being Zenyatta’s

biggest rival instead. Asmussen declined to guarantee Rachel

Alexandra’s appearance at Oaklawn next month.

“If I thought she’d get beat, I wouldn’t have run her today, so

I’m definitely going to be cautious,” Asmussen said.

The $5 million purse for the Apple Blossom is only guaranteed if

both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta race.

Shortly before Saturday’s race, Asmussen walked Rachel Alexandra

around the paddock himself, soaking in the adulation of the

cheering crowd that was packing the perimeter and lining

surrounding staircases to get photos of the star horse.

After going 8-0 as a 3-year-old, Rachel Alexandra was racing for

the first time in more than six months but was an overwhelming 1-9

favorite, while Zardana, ridden by David Flores, went off at 9

1/2-1.

Ridden by Calvin Borel, who also rode her to a win over males at

last year’s Preakness Stakes, Rachel Alexandra broke comfortably

from the No. 2 post position and quickly settled into second just

outside of Fighter Wing. Borel seemed to have Rachel Alexandra

calmly following Fighter Wing until easily pulling into first and

moving to the rail in the middle of the final turn.

“I wanted to let her run her race early but they wanted me to

wait,” Borel said. “I’d have got by (Fighter Wing) any time and

my filly could have gone on, but they wanted me to wait until the

16th pole.”

It’s not clear if the strategy Borel preferred would have made a

difference.

Zardana had the No. 3 post and quickly settled into third. She

remained within four lengths of the leaders throughout and then

rocketed down the final stretch.

“We had a picture-perfect trip,” Flores said. “The strategy

was simply to get her to relax and John (Shirreffs) said she would

get the job done. I got after her pretty hard coming home but she

is a real warrior.”

The two leading horses ran side-by-side for much of the final

stretch, with Zardana slightly ahead and holding on for her eighth

career win in 19 starts.

Zardana posted a winning time of 1:43.55 on the 1 1-16-mile dry

and fast dirt track on a cool, breezy day in New Orleans.

Unforgotten was third in the five-horse field, 11 1-2 lengths

behind Rachel Alexandra.

Zardana paid $21, $3.20 and $2.60. Rachel Alexandra paid $2.10

and $2.10 and Unforgotten paid $3.20.

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