Rachel vs. Zenyatta. The race is on!
One day after a matchup of racing's leading ladies fell apart, the owner of Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., worked out a compromise to match them for the first time - in the $5-million Apple Blossom Invitational on April 9.
"The race is a go," Charles Cella told The Associated Press Thursday in a telephone interview. "Both parties have signed off on it. I feel like we've been through the ringer on this thing. Now, we're really excited about it. This is truly a race for the ages."
The surprising turn of events came less than 24 hours after Rachel Alexandra's principal owner, Jess Jackson, said his filly was out of the 11/8-mile race because she would not be in peak condition by April 3. Instead, Jackson proposed a three-race series for the two horses, an offer Jerry Moss, Zenyatta's owner, said he was never consulted about.
Cella said he worked the phones Wednesday and Thursday morning trying to make his race a reality. He agreed to move the race to April 9 - a Friday and the day before the track's signature event, the Arkansas Derby - and Jackson was sold. In a statement, he said: "We are delighted that the race is on for April 9 and want to especially thank Charles Cella and Oaklawn for moving the date."
Moss had said his unbeaten mare would run in the Santa Margarita Handicap at Santa Anita on March 13 and then in the Apple Blossom.
"We appreciate and applaud Mr. Cella's effort to make this happen . . . " Moss told the AP. "We've been focused all along on Oaklawn."
The matchup has been the big story in racing for months, especially after Rachel Alexandra beat out Zenyatta for Horse of the Year. Rachel went 8-for-8 last year, beating the boys in the Preakness, Haskell and Woodward. The 6-year-old Zenyatta, 14-for-14 overall, became the first female to win the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Last week, Cella said he would boost the Apple Blossom purse from $500,000 to $5 million if both horses ran.
"The conditions stay the same," Cella said. "Both connections felt they needed a little more time so they could run in a prep, and I agreed to that."