Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra will make her 4-year-old debut in the March 13 New Orleans Ladies, assuming she continues to progress as expected, owner Jess Jackson of Stonestreet Stables confirmed Thursday. The $200,000 New Orleans Ladies is for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on the main track.
“That is our intended goal,” Jackson said by phone Thursday evening. “I believe she's on schedule and she'll get the prep race before she goes on to Oaklawn. There are other tracks that have offered to have us go, but right now we'd rather stay here.”
Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., announced earlier Thursday that the date of the Grade I Apple Blossom had been moved back to Friday, April 9, in order to give Rachel Alexandra and champion older female Zenyatta sufficient time to each get one start before meeting for the first time in what Oaklawn is billing as the “Race for the Ages.” The new date of the Apple Blossom places it 27 days after the New Orleans Ladies.
“We're obviously thrilled by the news that Rachel Alexandra, already a legend based on her accomplishments last year, intends to make her 2010 debut at Fair Grounds,” said Fair Grounds Vice President and General Manager Eric Halstrom. “We are already working to make sure March 13 will be a special day befitting of racing royalty.”
Jackson expressed his hope that the New Orleans Ladies would attract a solid field of competitors despite the imposing proposition for the others of having to face one of the top female racehorses in history.
“I'd really like to have more than just nominal competition in the race,” Jackson said. “Assuming it's a fair race I don't expect Rachel to have any trouble but at the same time, regardless of whether they're superstars or not, it embellishes the track's reputation and Rachel's reputation to have the best possible competition.”
Record rainfall in December and more high levels of precipitation in January repeatedly forced two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Steve Asmussen to adjust Rachel Alexandra's schedule. More recently, however, she has posted official workouts on consecutive weekends, including a half-mile breeze Saturday in :50 3/5.
“It's not anyone's fault, but with the rain and the track conditions it's been a serious setback to Rachel's routine,” Jackson said. “When you're training a horse it's an animal that needs to have a regular routine and Steve's been hard-pressed to keep her going given the weather. When we do get her to the track it's well maintained, but she's behind schedule and that means we're compressed to try to get everything done and keep her on schedule leading up to works and preparing her for a major competition at Oaklawn.”
Fair Grounds officials added the New Orleans Ladies to the stakes schedule last fall in hopes that a scenario such as this would play out. Now it appears Fair Grounds will get its wish—to showcase the champion filly in front of New Orleans' faithful race fans.
“It's always fun to visit New Orleans, one of the top cities in the United States,” Jackson said. “My wife loves it. You have great food. The rebound has been phenomenal as far as sports are concerned so maybe that will help lead to a full recovery.”
Rachel Alexandra established herself as one of the all-time great fillies last year with historic wins in the Grade I Kentucky Oaks and Grade I Preakness Stakes, as well as six other stakes races, including the Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks. She defeated older males twice, in the Grade I Haskell Invitational and the Grade I Woodward.
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