Team Rachel raises stakes

Owner ducks Oaklawn run against Zenyatta but issues best-of-three challenge

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.

Next best

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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

£25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...

Neil Pavier: Commercial Analyst

£50,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you a professionally qualified commercial ...

Loren Hughes: Financial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Loren Hughes: Are you looking for a new opportunity that wi...

Sheridan Maine: Finance Analyst

Circa £45,000-£50,000 + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ac...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor