2009 Horse Of The Year runner-up Zenyatta will get another chance to strut her stuff on Friday afternoon at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas. You all remember the Grade 1 $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap, right? Yes, this was the race that supposed to be worth $5,000,000 and be the Event Of The Decade with the two Horse Of The Year finalists from 2009, Zenyatta and winner Rachel Alexandra, finally meeting on the racetrack to determine who was the top lady in the land.
Well, the connections of Rachel Alexandra nixed that idea following her stunning loss to Zardana in the ungraded New Orleans Ladies at Fair Grounds. Oddly enough, Zardana is trained by John Shirreffs, who just happens to train Zenyatta also. It leads one to wonder if Shirreffs was too smart for his own good. It was obvious that Rachel's folks expected the Ladies to be little more than a public workout for the Horse Of The Year. They said all along leading into that race that she wasn't quite 100% and that they weren't going to exert her too much. So, what happens, she gets beat, everyone panics and the next day Jess Jackson announces that the expected meeting in the Apple Blossom is off. If Zardana had not been in the Ladies, Rachel probably beats what is left by about a dozen lengths and any attempt by the connections to exit stage left out of the Apple Blossom certainly looks like they are ducking Zenyatta. They would really have had no choice but to go to Oaklawn and run against her rival.
Now, full credit to the Mosses and Shirreffs for one thing. They said they were going to Oaklawn, Rachel or no Rachel, and they have done just that. It certainly appears that they are going to be true to their word and run Zenyatta in more than just California this year. Remember, she had gone to Oaklawn once before for one of her fifteen consecutive victories. The Apple Blossom does present a very possible case of deja vu, however. Rachel Alexandra's trainer, Steve Asmussen, has entered War Echo in the race as one of the four challengers to the throne. How delicious would it be if Asmussen returned the favor and defeated Zenyatta with one of the second string, just like Shirreffs did to Rachel Alexandra? Do I expect this to happen? Of course not, but as any horseplayer knows, they don't let you cash the tickets until the tote board reads "Official".
Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!