Horses

Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta to meet in rescheduled race

The efforts of Oaklawn Park President Charles Cella paid off after all.

Twenty-four hours after owner Jess Jackson said that 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra would not face undefeated champion Zenyatta in the Grade I Apple Blossom at the Hot Springs, Ark., track, Cella announced Thursday that an agreement had been reached between the horses' connections to bring them together for the 11⁄8-mile race.

In addition to increasing the purse of the Apple Blossom from $500,000 to $5 million, as Cella previously promised if both of the champions agreed to show up, he moved the race from its original date of Saturday, April 3, to Friday, April 9.

Considering Rachel Alexandra has not run since defeating older males in the Grade I Woodward Stakes on Sept. 5, trainer Steve Asmussen said in a statement Wednesday that "the earliest we could have a prep race would be the middle of March" and that it was "not fair to Rachel to ask her to race again three weeks later."

Cella said that he began discussions Wednesday night with Jackson and Zenyatta's owner Jerry Moss after hearing the original date was not feasible and that talks continued Thursday morning.

"I understand the concerns of all competitors in needing a prep race and properly preparing for a race of this magnitude, especially in light of the weather we've been experiencing recently around the country," Cella said. "Both parties want this to happen when their champions are at their absolute peak. This date makes that possible."

Zenyatta, who has not started since her victory over males in the Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 7, is being pointed toward a start in the Grade I Santa Margarita Handicap at Santa Anita on March 13. Rachel Alexandra could make her seasonal debut the same day at Fair Grounds in the $200,000 New Orleans Ladies Stakes.

Should they keep to those schedules, the Apple Blossom's new date of April 9 would give each of them nearly four weeks between starts.

"We are delighted that the race is on for April 9 and want to especially thank Charles Cella and Oaklawn for moving the date," Jackson said Thursday in a statement.

"We were planning to go (to the Apple Blossom) and are really pleased to have a chance to run over a good racetrack," Moss added in his own statement.

While the two sides have apparently come to an agreement, Jackson's statement on Wednesday that he was working with NTRA president Alex Waldrop to create a three-race series in which the two females would meet came as a surprise to the Zenyatta camp.

"I don't mean to be vague, but no one ever spoke to us about such a proposal," Dottie Ingordo-Shirreffs, racing manager for Jerry and Ann Moss and wife of trainer John Shirreffs, told Santa Anita Park's notes team Thursday morning. "We're just finding out, like everybody else."

Rachel Alexandra and Zen yatta have had success at Oaklawn, with the latter winning the 2008 Apple Blossom and Rachel Alexandra capturing the Martha Washington Stakes and the Grade II Fantasy Stakes there last year.

"This is truly a race for the ages," Cella said.

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