The proposed $5 million Apple Blossom is clearly in jeopardy after 9-1 Zardana shocked the racing world with a narrow win over Rachel Alexandra yesterday in the $200,000 New Orleans Ladies Stakes at Fair Grounds.
While Rachel faltered, Zenyatta overcame another poor start to win the $250,000 Santa Margarita Invitational at Santa Anita by more than one length.
Where does this leave the Apr. 9 race? What exactly happened yesterday?
In the first of the "prep" races, everyone expected Rachel Alexandra to win despite not having the best workouts since her return to the track after a long layoff.
After her incredible 2009, which included five Grade One victories, Rachel was shut down after her exciting win at Saratoga Racetrack in the Woodward Stakes.
Despite the six months between races, the reigning Horse of the Year was expected to beat a very marginal field at a mile-and-one-sixteenth yesterday.
At the top of the stretch, it appeared Rachel would cruise to victory after she passed tiring pace setter Fighter Wing. However, Zardana quickly closed the gap on Rachel and eventually passed the superstar in deep stretch.
The final time was 1:43.55.
Less than 30 minutes later, Zenyatta had center stage and we all know how much she loves the spotlight. As usual, she didn't disappoint.
At Santa Anita, Zenyatta came from last to first to capture the nine furlong Grade One in 1:48.20 after a lackluster start and some traffic in the stretch.
Zenyatta has now won all 15 of her starts and raised her career earnings to more than $5.5 million.
It appears that Zenyatta is still on track to start in the Apple Blossom on Apr. 9th. However, Rachel Alexandra trainer Steve Ausmussen will be scrutinizing his champion horse as the racing world scrutinizes him.
Did Ausmussen not have his horse fit enough to win yesterday? Is Ausmussen to blame for telling jockey Calvin Borel to wait to move instead of letting her impose her will on the field?
With the Apple Blossom just 27 days away, there are now more questions than answers with Rachel Alexandra.
While I consider Zenyatta to be the best horse on the planet, I expect Rachel to rebound like a true champion and be a dominant horse the rest of 2010. Is she good enough to beat Zenyatta? I believe so, but anything nine furlongs or longer is clearly an advantage for Zenyatta.
The racing industry needs these two superstars to meet on the track but it might not happen anytime soon.
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