Jess Jackson, principal owner of 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, announced March 14 that the 4-year-old filly will not face Zenyatta in the Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) at Oaklawn Park April 9.
Jackson's announcement, after consultation with trainer Steve Asmussen, comes a day after Rachel Alexandra was defeated by Zenyatta's stablement, Zardana, by three-quarters of a length in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes at Fair Grounds. The 1 1/16-mile race was designed as a prep for Rachel Alexandra's much-antiicpated showdown with the undefeated Zenyatta.
“Yesterday’s race while a disappointment, helped us define Rachel Alexandra’s racing condition," Jackson said in his statement. "While she is healthy, just as I had anticipated she is not in top form. Therefore, I decided today she will not be going to the Oaklawn Invitational on April 9. Steve and I discussed this fully and we now regret we tried to accelerate her training in order meet the Apple Blossom schedule. We have a whole season before us to help define her greatness. She will tell us when her next race will be.”
The Daily Racing Form quoted Asmussen as saying, “She’s clearly not up to her previous level.”
“We’re going to regroup and come back again,” Asmussen told DRF. “The disappointment from yesterday continues.”
Oaklawn Park had offered a $5 million purse, contingent on getting the two superstar females to square off in the Apple Blossom. John Shirreffs, trainer of both Zenyatta and Zardana, said Zenyatta will definitely return to Oaklawn for the Apple Blossom, regardless of whether Rachel Alexandra runs. The purse would revert to $500,000, however.
The track had been heavily advertising the race. The convention and visitor's bureau in Hot Springs said 50,000 trading cards featuring the horses were being printed, and hotel rooms in the resort area for the track's spring festival have been booked solid for weeks.
``Naturally, we are disappointed that Rachel Alexandra will not be here for the Apple Blossom Invitational,'' Oaklawn said in a statement. ``We wish her the best of luck on the rest of her 2010 racing campaign. We look forward to welcoming Zenyatta back to Arkansas as she attempts to equal Cigar and Citation's modern-day record of 16 consecutive unrestricted victories.''
In the weeks leading up to her comeback race, Asmussen had complained that Rachel Alexandra had missed training due to wet and cold weather and that the schedule leading up to the Apple Blossom was too tight. In the New Orleans Ladies, she pressed a hard pace for a half mile before eventually taking the lead for jockey Calvin Borel. But she could not hold off the grade II winner Zardana in the drive.
DRF reported that Rachel Alexandra came out of her first race in six months in good order, eating well and appearing to be in good spirits on the morning of March 14. She is expected to continue her training at Fair Grounds for now.
"She blew after the race, but she wasn't exhausted," Asmussen told the publication. "She drank plenty of water afterwards. It took her a little while to leave the test barn, but she went back to the barn comfortably. She went right to her feed tub last night, and she was in very good health this morning."
Jerry Moss, owner of Zenyatta, was reached by phone at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif., and asked to comment on the news that Rachel Alexandra will not run as originally scheduled in the Apple Blossom.
“We’re disappointed that we’re not going to be able to face each other in the Apple Blossom. Hopefully, we can meet down the line. We respect both 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.
“We’ll go on to the Apple Blossom as planned.”