As expected the connections of Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra are skipping the Oaklawn Invitational after Rachel lost her first race as a 4-year-old Saturday at Fair Grounds in New Orleans. Owner Jess Jackson issued the following statement Sunday:
“Yesterday’s race while a disappointment, 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 (Asmussen) 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.”
Zenyatta, perfect on the racetrack over a 15-start career, has never lost anything except the vote for Horse of the Year. Having beaten Zenyatta at the ballot box there's no good reason for Jackson to let Zenyatta turn the tables on Rachel Alexandra at the racetrack. The way Zenyatta won in her return to action Saturday served notice to all comers that she is still a force to be reckoned with, Eclipse award or not.
Just as they handled her 3-year-old campaign like master promoters, Rachel Alexandra's connections know when to back off their challenge. Let's hope they don't propose any more bogus match races that they know won't be accepted.
Jerry Moss, owner of Zenyatta, was reached by phone at his home in Beverly Hills and asked to comment on Jess Jackson’s announcement that Rachel Alexandra will not run as originally scheduled in the Gr. I Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park on April 9.
“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 weather at Fair Grounds was miserable this winter, a legitimate excuse for trainer Steve Asmussen, who was unable to condition Rachel Alexander in the manner he desired. Nevertheless Saturday's race was supposed to be an easy task for her and Rachel Alexandra couldn't handle it. Many fillies don't mature from their 2-year-old into their 3-year-old seasons, and now that Rachel Alexandra has become a 4-year-old she may no longer have as keen an interest in racing. Jess Jackson may be best off swallowing his pride and retiring Rachel Alexandra to broodmare work. It's unlikely she'll ever beat Zenyatta anyway the way she's running.
NB: One undeniable factor in the Horse of the Year vote was the feeling that Zenyatta had an unfair advantage in the Breeders' Cup running on her home track, Santa Anita. "You can't win a championship without winning an away game," reasoned one horseman, slightly distorting Zenyatta's record. But the fault here lies entirely with the Breeders Cup, which should never have made the mistake of scheduling the event two consecutive years at Santa Anita. You know Zenyatta would have competed at Belmont or Churchill Downs if the Cup was held there. She didn't make the questionable call to make Santa Anita home for the event in both 2008 and 2009. The Breeders Cup site selection committee gave the sport a black eye when it least needs it with this foolish move. So once again I will challenge this insulated group: either come up with a permanent site for this event that suits horsepeople all over the world or devise an equitable solution to the rotation. Personally I'm in favor of making Churchill Downs the permanent site. In Kentucky they know what horseracing is about.