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Feb 12, 2010

Classic meeting closer to reality

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

 Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The impossible is about to happen. Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra and undefeated champion mare Zenyatta may actually face each other on the racetrack.

Thursday afternoon Oaklawn Park owner Charles Cella announced that the $5 million Apple Blossom Invitational will go off on Friday, April 9, six days after the original date in order to give the two horses more preparation time.

"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."

Both Rachel and Zenyatta are expected to make their respective 2010 debuts on Saturday, March 13. Rachel is being pointed to the $200,000 New Orleans Ladies at the Fair Grounds and Zenyatta is set for the $250,000 Santa Margarita Handicap at Santa Anita.

"That is our intended goal," said Rachel's co-owner Jess Jackson Thursday evening. "I believe she's on schedule and she'll get the prep race before she goes on to Oaklawn. There are other tracks that have offered to have us go, but right now we'd rather stay here.

"I'd really like to have more than just nominal competition in the race. Assuming it's a fair race I don't expect Rachel to have any trouble but at the same time, regardless of whether they're superstars or not, it embellishes the track's reputation and Rachel's reputation to have the best possible competition."

Rachel has been stabled and working out at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. Trainer Steve Asmussen and chief assistant Scott Blasi have been keeping a close watch on the four-year-old filly.

It appears Jackson is solidly behind having his filly race at Oaklawn where she won two stakes races last year.

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

At Hollywood Park, Zenyatta under the care of trainer John Shirreffs, is preparing for her first start this year.

"I'm looking forward to Zenyatta coming back," said her regular jockey Mike Smith.

The Apple Blossom will go off the day prior to the running of the $1 million Arkansas Derby for three-year-olds.

"The most important day in Arkansas sports history has now become the most important two days in Arkansas sports history,' Cella said. "This is truly a race for the ages."

The back and forth that has been going on concerning the two females meeting in a race has been intriguing.

Wednesday afternoon Jackson put out a statement suggesting that a three race series happen featuring Rachel and Zenyatta. Jackson noted that April 3, the original date for the Oaklawn race, would be too soon for his four-year-old.

Thursday morning Dottie Ingordo-Shirreffs, racing manager for Zenyatta's owners, basically said that the Jackson proposal was news to her.

"We're waiting to hear about what's going on," Ingordo said. "We're just finding out, like everybody else."

However, according to the Oaklawn release Cella served as a go-between with the two groups to make the meeting happen.

"Cella reported that he began discussions Wednesday night with both Jackson and Zenyatta owner Jerry Moss," the press statement noted, "immediately upon hearing that the original date of April 3 was not feasible, and that those discussions continued Thursday morning."

So the first historic race featuring both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta is going to happen. The only thing to arrange now is the television broadcast.

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