Team Rachel raises stakes
Owner ducks Oaklawn run against Zenyatta but issues best-of-three challenge
Friday 12 February 2010
Even when the sparring remains merely verbal, it is great box office. What will it be like when they finally step into the ring together?
A proposed $5m (£3.2m) bout between Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra, whose competing claims as the greatest filly in American Turf history remain contingent on the showdown they have so far avoided, was yesterday rejected by Jess Jackson, sticking scrupulously to his script as pantomime villain. But Rachel Alexandra's majority owner, who notoriously refused to run his filly in the Breeders' Cup Classic last November, insisted that he would come up with something even better instead.
A racecourse in Arkansas, Oaklawn Park, had promised a tenfold prize-money boost for one of Zenyatta's early targets, the Apple Blossom Stakes on 3 April, if Rachel Alexandra showed up as well. But Steve Asmussen, trainer of the latter, has now decided that the race will come too soon. And Jackson promptly announced that he is negotiating a best-of-three series with the National Thoroughbred Racing Association – to the evident surprise of Zenyatta's own connections.
Jackson issued a characteristically portentous statement. "The fans have spoken," he said. "The media has spoken. Everyone wants to see Rachel race against Zenyatta, including me. In fact, I want it to happen several times. We have been in discussions with [the NTRA], with the hope of co-ordinating training schedules, racing schedules, purses and all ancillary factors, so that we can all agree upon three dates and venues for what will be a racing series to rival the Triple Crown."
He is probably not wrong about that, though Jerry Moss, co-owner of Zenyatta, professed himself mystified. "I have no idea what he's even talking about," he said. "Which three races? And where? And when?"
Moss added that he was sorry Rachel Alexandra would not be going to Oaklawn. "In the meantime, there's some plan here, which we're supposed to respond to, and we haven't even been consulted about it," he said. "So I don't know what I'm supposed to say."
For now, all he could confirm is that his unbeaten champion, sensationally brought out of retirement during the winter, was on course to reappear at Santa Anita on 13 March. But he did reiterate that he wanted her to end up back at the Breeders' Cup, which this year returns to the dirt surface favoured by Jackson, at Churchill Downs. "The Breeders' Cup is something I honour," he said. "I believe that's where championships are decided."
Closer to home, there is a no less momentous duel on the horizon at Cheltenham next month. Denman goes to Newbury tomorrow for a final rehearsal before his Gold Cup stand-off with Kauto Star, and happily the course management was yesterday sounding extremely positive that the weather will not intrude.
Paul Nicholls has asked Ruby Walsh to surrender the mount on Denman to Tony McCoy, in readiness for their Festival date. But yesterday Walsh reminded the champion jockey who comes first for the champion trainer by showing up unexpectedly at Huntingdon to claim the mount on Sang Bleu in the Chatteris Fen Juvenile Hurdle. Walsh had been due to ride at Thurles, but dashed for a plane when that meeting was abandoned. Sang Bleu made his efforts worthwhile.
Turf account: Chris McGrath
Gershwinner (3.55 Bangor) Remains in the early stages of his chasing career and looked ready to resume his progress at Taunton last time, going exuberantly for a long way before tiring. That was only his second start of an interrupted winter.
Polyfast (4.20 Kempton) Returns to course and distance of his impressive chasing debut at Christmas, where he jumped like a natural and beat a decent field decisively.
One to watch
Erinjay (M Wigham) had looked an improver before failing to settle upped in trip and showed he has more to offer at Lingfield the other day.
Where the money's going
Nicky Henderson is 7-2 with the sponsors to win his fourth Totesport Gold Trophy in eight runnings at Newbury tomorrow with Spirit River, Stravinsky Dance, Fairyland or First Point.
Latest in Sport
Liverpool transfer news and rumours: Xabi Alonso to be quizzed before £18m Asier Illarramendi bid; Battle on for Rickie Lambert
Transfer news and rumours LIVE: Juan Cuadrado to Chelsea, Cristiano Ronaldo to Manchester City, United want Gareth Bale
Arsenal vs Aston Villa report: Inspirational Mesut Ozil takes chance to regain limelight from Alexis Sanchez
Arsenal 5 Aston Villa 0 player ratings: Mesut Ozil or Santi Cazorla? Who stole the show at the Emirates Stadium?
Arsenal transfer news and rumours: Marco Reus 'wants to work with Arsene Wenger'; Nicolas Otamendi link; Jose Luis Gaya clause met
- 1 Three-year-old boy shoots pregnant mother and father in New Mexico
- 2 Stephen Fry explains what he would say if he was 'confronted by God'
Stephen Fry explains what he would say if he was 'confronted by God'
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
President Putin is a dangerous psychopath - reason is not going to work with him
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign
Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...
£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...
£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...
£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...