Rachel's loss puts showdown in doubt

The meeting the racing world has been salivating for has been put on hold indefinitely.

After watching reigning Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra finish a stunning second in the $200,000 New Orleans Ladies Stakes at Fair Grounds Saturday, majority owner Jess Jackson announced Sunday the daughter of Medaglia d'Oro would not face undefeated champion Zenyatta in the $5 million Apple Blossom Invitational at Oaklawn Park April 9.

Oaklawn Park president Charles Cella offered up the $5 million purse for the Apple Blossom in attempt to get the two champion females together for the first time. That dream went up in smoke, however, when Rachel Alexandra was beaten three-quarters of a length by Grade II winner Zardana in what was her first start since defeating older males in the Grade I Woodward Stakes on Sept. 5.

Considering the six-month layoff and the fact Rachel Alexandra only returned to the workout tab at the end of January, her connections were openly concerned about her fitness — a fear that proved all too real.

"We tried, and we really wanted to go (to the Apple Blossom)," Jackson said. "It's unfortunate but the timing just wasn't right for the health of the horse.

"It's obvious she's not in top shape. The race yesterday was to define how far along she was. I repeatedly told people she was only 80 or 85 percent of what I thought was up to her top condition last year. That race proved it."

The loss in the New Orleans Ladies was the first defeat for Rachel Alexandra since Nov. 1, 2008 when she ran second in the Grade III Pocahontas Stakes at Churchill Downs.

The bay filly won all eight of her starts in 2009, including defeating males in the Preakness Stakes, Haskell Invitational, and Woodward Stakes.

While Rachel Alexandra suffered a rare setback, Zenyatta remained undefeated in 15 lifetime starts by winning the Grade I Santa Margarita Saturday, her first effort since taking the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic on November 7.

Zenyatta's connections had previously said they were planning to send her to the Apple Blossom even before the deal to lure both her and Rachel Alexandra was conceived. The 6-year-old daughter of Street Cry remains on track to contest the race, which will now revert back to a $500,000 purse.

"We're disappointed that we're not going to be able to face each other in the Apple Blossom," Jerry Moss, who owns Zenyatta along with his wife Ann, said in a statement. "Hopefully, we can meet down the line. We respect both (trainer) 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."

Asmussen said Sunday Rachel Alexandra emerged from Saturday's race in good order but offered no indication when she might make her next start.

"Her physical condition and her state of mind are what we need to concern ourselves with," Asmussen said.