Oaklawn Park president Charles Cella is doing his part to produce the historic matchup the Thoroughbred racing community has been clamoring for.
During a Thursday morning press conference at Oaklawn, Cella announced the Hot Springs, Ark., track would increase the purse of the Grade I Apple Blossom on April 3 to $5 million should champions Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta both start.
The $5 million purse would be the largest for a filly and mare race in the history of North American Thoroughbred racing, a fitting amount considering the contenders it is trying to lure.
Though the two brilliant females have yet to meet on the track, the 4-year-old Rachel Alexandra and 6-year-old Zenyatta were each unanimous choices for divisional honors at the Eclipse Awards and part of a heated Horse of the Year battle that saw Preakness, Haskell and Woodward winner Rachel Alexandra prevail by a 130-99 first-place voting margin.
Never miss a local story.
Though Zenyatta was originally slated to be retired after her history-making win in the Breeders' Cup Classic last November, owners Jerry and Ann Moss announced days before the Eclipse Awards that she would remain in training this year.
Should the two show up for the Apple Blossom, the race — which has been extended from 11⁄16 miles to 11⁄8 miles — will be an invitational event.
"We have always pursued a goal of bringing the world's best racing to Arkansas," Cella said. "... Should this race come off as expected, it will most certainly fulfill every promise made."
Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra each own victories at Oaklawn Park.
Zenyatta won the 2008 Apple Blossom in her only career start on the dirt while Rachel Alexandra took the Martha Washington and Grade II Fantasy Stakes there last season.
The connections of both horses expressed their appreciation for the race, but neither would make a commitment on Thursday.
"We're all very excited about the opportunity," said Dottie Ingordo-Shirreffs, racing manager for Jerry and Ann Moss and wife of trainer John Shirreffs.
"It would be fabulous for the fans and the racing industry. We'll do our best to make the race, but obviously, it all depends on Zenyatta and how she's doing."
While Zenyatta has been in steady training since her victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic, Rachel Alexandra has not run since defeating older males in the Grade I Woodward Stakes on Sept. 5.
Rachel Alexandra posted her first official workout of 2010 on Sunday when she breezed 4 furlongs in :52 at Fair Grounds.
"As you have heard me say many times before, a number of factors must be considered when deciding where to race a horse — the number one factor being the condition of the horse," Jess Jackson, majority owner of Rachel Alexandra, said in a statement. "Rachel will tell us when she is ready to start her 2010 campaign and we humans must agree she is in top form.
"My family and I would love to see her run at Oaklawn Park. If she is in top form and it fits in our schedule, we will be there."
Should Rachel Alexandra or Zenyatta fail to start, the Apple Blossom will revert to its original status with a purse of $500,000 guaranteed.