Connections keen for Rachel Alexandra – Zenyatta showdown

Connections of Champion mares Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta are keen to arrange a showdown between the two stars this year.

But when, or if, it will happen is a constantly moving target.  Both must stay healthy and both must come back at the top of their game.

Rachel Alexandra (Medaglia d’Oro), who was named the 2009 Horse of the Year at last Monday’s Eclipse Awards, has not been seen since her demanding victory in the Woodward Stakes more than four months ago at Saratoga.  She is currently training at Fair Grounds with trainer Steve Asmussen, but her return to the races is not imminent.  Her majority owner Jess Jackson said her training routine had been compromised by the wet weather in New Orleans.

Unlike 2009, when Rachel Alexandra ran early and often the first part of the year and then bypassed the Breeders’ Cup, her 2010 campaign likely will be focused on the Breeders’ Cup, which will be held this year at Churchill Downs, where Rachel Alexandra romped in the 2009 Kentucky Oaks.

By contrast, Zenyatta (Street Cry) has stayed in regular training at Hollywood Park with trainer John Shirreffs, even during her brief retirement.  Her first intended target is not until March 13 in the Santa Margarita Handicap at Santa Anita.  She is then expected to go to Oaklawn Park for the Apple Blossom Handicap, a race she won two years ago.

“We couldn’t arrange a showdown last year,” Jackson said.  “But we’re hoping that each horse may win their way to an ultimate match-up.”

Zenyatta’s owner Jerry Moss is looking forward to the encounter.  “Someday we’ll meet.  I wouldn’t trade her with anybody.”

Rachel Alexandra received 130 first-place votes to defeat Kenyatta (99) for the US Horse of the Year award for 2009.  “They both deserved the award,” Jackson said.  “If you think about their achievements individually or collectively, there has never been another year like this for fillies.”

Nobody’s beaten Zenyatta on the racetrack,” Moss countered.  “They beat her by proxy as far as I’m concerned.  Obviously, I congratulate the Jacksons.  They have a great horse.”

Rachel Alexandra’s overall campaign swung more voters.  She won the Kentucky Oaks by more than 20 lengths, defeated males in the Preakness, Haskell, and Woodward, and won the Mother Goose by more than 19 lengths. She won all eight of her starts last year, four for trainer Hal Wiggins and four for Steve Asmussen after Jackson purchased her privately.