Owner proposes 3-race series
The owner of Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra says his filly won't run against Zenyatta in a $5 million race in Arkansas, but he's proposing a three-race series in which the leading ladies will meet.
Jess Jackson says he has been in discussions with the president of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and hopes details can be worked out with the owners of Zenyatta.
In a news release issued Wednesday, Jackson says if training and racing schedules as well as purse money can be worked out, the three races would "rival the Triple Crown."
Jerry Moss, who co-owns Zenyatta with his wife Ann, was surprised by Jackson's announcement, and told The Associated Press: "I have no idea what he's even talking about. Which three races? And where? And when?"
A week ago, Oaklawn Park said it would boost the purse of the Apple Blossom on April 3 to $5 million from $500,000 if both horses competed.
"It's a shame they are not going to show up for that race," Moss said in a telephone interview with the AP. "In the meantime, there's some plan here, to run in three races, to which we're supposed to respond to, and we haven't even been consulted about it. So, I don't know what I'm supposed to say."
Moss did say Zenyatta remains on schedule to run in the Santa Margarita at Santa Anita on March 13, and then the Apple Blossom.
"Then we'll see what's next," Moss said, adding that the goal is to run in the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5-6. "The Breeders' Cup is something I honor. I believe that's where championships are decided."
Jackson, meanwhile, said he believes a series of races is the way to go, although he did not mention any races or racetracks he had in mind for the series that would conclude in November.
"The fans have spoken. The media has spoken. Everyone wants to see Rachel race against Zenyatta -- including me," Jackson said. "In fact, I want it to happen several times this year."
The two champions have not met on the racetrack, and Rachel Alexandra beat out Zenyatta in voting for Horse of the Year.
Jackson's proposal calls for a three-race series that would conclude in November, the same month as the Breeders' Cup.
"Hopefully, these discussions will take place at the earliest possible time so that we can announce something that will give the fans a season to remember," Jackson said.
NTRA president Alex Waldrop said he supports any effort to put together a race featuring the sport's biggest stars.
"The NTRA will continue to do everything possible to facilitate a meeting or series of races between champions Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta," he said in a statement. "We look forward to further discussions with the connections of both horses."
Jackson passed on an invitation to the Apple Blossom because Rachel's trainer Steve Asmussen said the 4-year-old filly would not be in top form. Jackson said he asked for the race to be moved back a week, but Oaklawn officials declined the request.
"Out of respect for the level of competition and the importance of this race, I have told Mr. Jackson it was not in the best interest of the horse to race on April 3," Asmussen said. "Getting to this level of fitness after a six-month layoff takes time. If all goes according to schedule, and we do not have any further weather delays, the earliest we could have a prep race would be the middle of March. It is then not fair to Rachel to ask her to race again three weeks later."
Rachel won all eight of her starts last year, including victories against males in the Preakness Stakes, the Haskell Invitational and the Woodward Stakes. She was the first filly in 85 years to win the Preakness.
Zenyatta was perfect in '09, too, and improved her career record to 14-0 by becoming the first female to win the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press