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Mar 19, 2010

Rachel Alexandra absence does not affect Zenyatta

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The hoped for meeting next month at Oaklawn Park between 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra and champion mare Zenyatta has been put on hold.

Rachel Alexandra's majority owner Jess Jackson announced on Sunday that his four-year-old filly will not take on her older rival in the Apple Blossom Invitational on Friday, April 9. Both females began their 2010 season on Saturday with different results.

Racing in the New Orleans Ladies at the Fair Grounds, Rachel finished second to Zardana, a stablemate of Zenyatta. Zardana, trained by John Shirreffs, got the best of the 1-20 favorite in the 1 1/16-mile race. Rachel came up three- quarters of a length short of getting the win.

"Yesterday's race while a disappointment," Jackson said on Sunday, "helped us define Rachel Alexandra's racing condition. 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.

"We tried and we really wanted to go (to the Apple Blossom). 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."

Zenyatta, on the other hand, exhibited her now classic style of racing. Sitting last in the nine horse field, Zenyatta and jockey Mike Smith did not begin to move past other horses until the far turn.

The two-time champion mare had to maneuver around horses down the stretch, but eventually prevailed over Dance to My Tune by 1 1/4-lengths. Unlike Rachel who was the overwhelming 1-20 favorite, Zenyatta was the 3-10 favorite in the 1 1/8-mile Santa Margarita Invitational.

"Everybody really loves her," owner Jerry Moss said about Zenyatta. "Everybody's so pleased to have her back and to root for her, and when she wins, she makes everybody happy. It's sort of like something going on inside each and every one of us. She's perfect. She's the idol of perfection we all strive for. That's about as profound as I get.

"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."

The Apple Blossom will now revert to its original $500,000 purse due to the absence of Rachel Alexandra. Oaklawn Park did everything it could to facilitate a meeting between the two champions. The race was originally scheduled for April 3, but was pushed back six days to accommodate both parties.

The question now is whether Rachel is going race again this year? It appeared on Saturday that she was capable of winning, but jockey Calvin Borel felt the filly simply needed the race.

"We had talked about her being 75 or 85 percent fit," trainer Steve Asmussen said. "The filly got tired but she cooled out fine and came back well from it; it's just a case if we can move forward in a positive direction fitness-wise, as well as with everything else. Her physical condition and her state of mind are what we need to concern ourselves with and we'll address that moving forward."

As has always been the case Jess Jackson is in no hurry to have Rachel race before she shows she is ready.

"It's up to her," Jackson commented. "She has to show us that she's back up to her '09 form. We had progressively accelerated her conditioning and it didn't work, so we're going to gear back, let her develop at her own pace. I can't give you a prediction as to when, but it might take a couple of months."

While the racing world is anxious to have Rachel and Zenyatta meet, we have to commend Mr. Jackson and his crew for their diligence in keeping the filly's health primary.

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