HOT SPRINGS, AR (Feb. 4, 2010) – Calling it “one of the most important moments at Oaklawn and in Arkansas sports,” Oaklawn President Charles J. Cella announced Thursday that Oaklawn will increase the purse of the April 3 Grade I Apple Blossom to $5 million provided champions Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta both start.
At a morning press conference, Cella reported that he has spoken with the owners of both Rachel Alexandra (Jess Jackson) and Zenyatta (Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Moss). Both showed enthusiasm for bringing their champions to Oaklawn for the first Saturday of the famed Racing Festival of the South.
Rachel Alexandra (Three-Year-Old Filly) and Zenyatta (Older Filly or Mare) were unanimous Eclipse Award winners in their respective divisions in 2009 and were the only finalists for horse racing’s highest honor – The Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year. In one of the closest ballots in recent memory, Rachel Alexandra was named Horse of Year.
Oaklawn has long been perceived as the ideal neutral ground for the dream matchup, because both have used the Arkansas oval as a launching pad to future success.
As a lightly-raced but promising 4-year-old in 2008, Zenyatta captured her first Grade I victory in that year’s Apple Blossom, beating then reigning champion Ginger Brew among others in her only start outside of California and only start on a conventional dirt surface. She has since gone on to post a perfect 14-for-14 record, highlighted by her victory in the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic and her victory against males in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic, in what was believed at the time to be the final race of her career. Rumblings about Zenyatta’s “un-retirement” began to be felt in December and Moss made it official Saturday, Jan. 16.
Rachel Alexandra kicked off her three-year-old campaign at Oaklawn with a pair of eye-popping stakes wins in the Martha Washington and the Fantasy Stakes. Her record victory in the Kentucky Oaks the day before the Kentucky Derby clearly stamped her as the best three-year-old filly in the nation. She proved more than that in her next start when she became the first filly to win the Preakness Stakes in 85 years. Rachel Alexandra beat three-year-old colts again in the Haskell and became the first three-year-old filly to win the prestigious Woodward Stakes against older males in September.
Should both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta start, this year’s Apple Blossom will be an invitational event. Other leaders in the filly and mare division will be invited to participate. The $5 million purse will be the largest purse for a filly and mare race in the history of North American thoroughbred racing.
“We have always pursued a goal of bringing the world’s best racing to Arkansas,” Cella said. “That is what led us to create the Racing Festival of the South more than 30 years ago. We have been even more fortunate in recent years. That gives us the opportunity to fulfill the promises we continually make to our fans, our horsemen and all of our supporters – should this race come off as expected, it will most certainly fulfill every promise made.”
The distance of the race, historically contested at a mile-and-one-sixteenth, will be extended to a mile-and-one-eighth.
Should Rachel Alexandra or Zenyatta fail to start, the Grade I Apple Blossom will revert to its original status as of February 3, with a purse of $500,000 Guaranteed.