This past Saturday was supposed to be a tune-up for Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta. A stepping stone to the Apple Blossom. It was predetermined. They both would be odds-on and both would win. Then on to the clash on April 9. Hot Springs, Arkansas was booked solid already. Those that waited too long would have to settle for accommodations in a dry county 30 minutes away. Everyone was going there to see the race of the decade.
The Asmussen barn took its time getting Rachel back to the races. Rain in New Orleans was oft-used reason for a delayed training regimen. There were whispers from the connections that she might not be ready. Rumors flew that she could get beat. Most in this game are tight lipped; few speak confidently. They know better. Having an excuse in your hip pocket is the best plan. You never are sure until the race is run and the wraps come off. The betting public pounded her to 1-9 nonetheless. Looked like a cinch. But this is a high stakes poker game with living, breathing chips.
Borel had the great filly in position to win. This was not the same filly that dug in in NY to beat the boys. This time Rachel surrendered. She was beat. Beat by Shirreffs with his second string.
Who knows for sure why. Maybe she wasn’t ready. Maybe owner Jess Jackson ignored the words of fellow vintner Paul Masson and ran a horse ‘before its time.’ Mr. Asmussen is a top-notch horseman. For Rachel to make the Apple Blossom she needed a start. Not all Horses of the Year win their next start.
I watched the race with the boss, Randy Sampson. Following the conclusion he said, “Well Jeffrey it looks like the trip is off.”
We already had plans to attend the Apple Blossom.
“They won’t run her.”
He was right. Less then 24 hours later Jess Jackson folded his hand.
So what does Gilbert Grape do next? If she is sound, he will campaign Rachel with the Breeders’ Cup in mind. This time it will be on real dirt.
On the west coast, Zenyatta again proved just how good she is. She was not blessed with the early speed of Rachel. In a game dominated by speed she is not supposed to be undefeated. Horses with that running style get beat. Yet she gets her nose on the wire every time.
The Apple Blossom would not have provided proof of who was best. But it would have been a heck of a race and a brief shot in the arm for the industry. It won’t happen… yet if ever.
Time will tell if Rachel runs again. For that matter, Zenyatta could be retired tomorrow. There is nothing left to prove regardless what the owners say.