Jackson passes on Oaklawn, proposes 3 later races for Rachel, Zenyatta

awincze@herald-leader.comFebruary 11, 2010 

The anticipated showdown between 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra and undefeated champion Zenyatta will have to wait a little longer.

The connections of Rachel Alexandra announced Wednesday the 4-year-old filly would not run in the Grade I Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park on April 3, putting the kibosh on a lucrative deal offered up by track president Charles Cella.

Last week, Cella offered to boost the purse of the Apple Blossom to $5 million should both champions show up for the 11⁄8-mile race.

But in a statement released Wednesday, trainer Steve Asmussen said, "It was not in the best interest" of Rachel Alexandra to ask her to be ready for such a test off a six-month layoff.

"Getting to this level of fitness after a six-month layoff takes time," Asmussen said. "If all goes according to schedule, and we do not have any further weather delays, the earliest we could have a prep race would be the middle of March. It is then not fair to Rachel to ask her to race again three weeks later."

Wednesday's statement said owner Jess Jackson requested Oaklawn delay the Apple Blossom by a week to have his filly ready, but track officials told him that would not be possible.

Though the Apple Blossom showdown won't happen, Jackson said he is in discussions with NTRA President Alex Waldrop to create a series of races between now and November for the two superstars.

"Everyone wants to see Rachel race against Zenyatta — including me," Jackson said. "In fact, I want it to happen several times this year. We have been in discussions with Alex Waldrop with the hope of coordinating training schedules, racing schedules, purses and all ancillary factors, so that we can all agree upon three dates and three venues for what will be a racing series to rival the Triple Crown."

Jerry Moss, who co-owns Zenyatta with his wife, Ann, was surprised by Jackson's announcement, telling The Associated Press, "I have no idea what he's even talking about. Which three races? And where? And when?"

Churchill Downs offers a handful of potential spots that could bring Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta together, most notably the Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap on June 18. However, John Asher, vice president of racing communications for the Louisville track, said Wednesday he was not aware of any discussions that had taken place between track officials and the connections of the two horses.

"All I can say is, we'd love to have them both, for the Breeders' Cup and a couple times before that," Asher said. "But at this point, that's just wishing. It's very early and a lot of things would have to fall into place."

Zenyatta's connections had previously said the Apple Blossom — which the mare won in 2008 — was part of their tentative plans even before the Oaklawn offer was made.

"(Trainer) John (Shirreffs ) will pick a spot soon, I'm sure," said Mike Smith, Zen yatta's jockey. "The Santa Margarita (at Santa Anita on March 13) is certainly a possibility, and then on to Oaklawn, if it works out."

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