By Ray Paulick
Jess Jackson could have waited until Friday night at 9 o'clock or so to send out a press release anouncing his regrets for not pointing Rachel Alexandra to the April 3 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park. Oaklawn owner Charles Cella had proposed increasing the Apple Blossom's purse to $5 million if Jackson's 2009 Horse of the Year and the unbeaten two-time champion mare Zenyatta were both in the starting lineup for the race.
That's what the president of Toyota did—schedule a press conference for 9 p.m. on a Friday night–to respond to mounting public outrage over safety problems with cars produced by the world's leading automotive manufacturer. Spin doctors always advise their clients to put bad news out late on a Friday to get the lowest possible publicity and media coverage.
But not Jess Jackson. He had the courage to send out a press release at the end of the business day on a Wednesday, when most racetracks East of the Mississippi were closed due to blizzard conditions. His press release was very clever, too, utilizing an old-fashioned smokescreen—a grand proposal for a three-race series between the two distaffers—to obscure the fact Rachel Alexandra would skip the Apple Blossom. To make matters worse, he made trainer Steve Asmussen the fall guy who had to deliver the bad news: ““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 was quoted as saying in the press release. “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.”
I could be wrong, but I think that's the most Jackson has allowed Asmussen to say since the California winemaker bought Rachel Alexandra after her victory in the Kentucky Oaks last spring.
But the confusing part of the release was Jackson's statement that the proposed racing series between Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta has been “in the works for several weeks.” If that's the case, why did Jackson indicate even the slightest bit of interest when Cella proposed the Apple Blossom purse increase?
Also, why is Jackson suddenly relying on the National Thoroughbred Racing Association to put something together? The NTRA owns no racetracks, has no authority over tracks, stakes schedules or race conditions, and doesn't even have any juice left with television networks.
If anything, Jackson should be asking the Breeders' Cup—not the NTRA–for assistance in putting the series together and promoting it, since racing fans hope the two fillies will remain sound throughout 2010 and eventually go head-to-head in either the Breeders' Cup Classic or Ladies' Classic this fall at Churchill Downs. A series of races betweem the two leading up to the Breeders' Cup would be in that organization's best interests, and the Breeders' Cup does have stronger ties to ESPN for broadcast opportunities.
Finally, if the proposal by Jackson was genuine, why on earth were Jerry and Ann Moss not even mentioned in the press release. As Zenyatta's owners, I think they might want to have some say in this proposed series.
Sorry, Jess, but I'm calling your bluff.
Copyright © 2010, The Paulick Report
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