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That Would Be Nice | Superfectablog v3.0

Racehorses in History

June: Fairy Chant
b. 1937
Why: A champion at 3 and 4, Fairy Chant won the Beldame twice. She was in the money for 26 of her 42 races.

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That Would Be Nice

Rachel Alexandra, at work last weekend

Rachel Alexandra, at work last weekend - will she go to Arkansas?

The rumored purse-bump for the Apple Blossom was announced today, and by all accounts, it seems to have come about the right way.  Should Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta both appear at Oaklawn Park in the April 3rd race, there will be $5 million dollars on the line.  And if both do appear, the other slots in the field will be by invitation only – we’ll address that point shortly.

As is so often the case in racing, it takes individual effort, rather than any sort of central planning, to attempt to put together a marquee event – and Oaklawn president Charles J. Cella has ample experience in this regard.  Back before it became a trendy place to prep for the Derby, Cella offered a bonus for any 3-year-old who could capture the Southwest, the Rebel and the Arkansas Derby – in theory, the $5 million on offer on that occasion was a notional effort to celebrate the track’s centennial – in practice, the bonus (at the time, the largest bonus in North American racing) was paid out to a colt named Smarty Jones, and Hot Springs became one of the destinations on the road to Louisville.

It would be interesting to hear what sort of bargaining went on behind the scenes with this particular $5 million bonus; Cella noted that he spoke with the connections of both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta (as one might expect), although of course that does not commit either one to the race.  But the fact that all the key (human) players have been involved to some level is an encouraging sign; while no single race is going to ‘save racing,’ it’s something every fan wants to see, and even this initial move toward making it happen is a refreshing change.

And while Oaklawn is, indeed, an ideal site for the two to meet (as both have wins over the track), no single race will determine how the two truly compare – the ideal would be if this were the beginning of a five-race series (at different tracks, in different regions, allowing the maximum number of fans to see them in person) leading up to the Breeders’ Cup – I’d even be curious to see the two on turf, although presumably Zenyatta would have an edge in that instance.  Perhaps it’s all the Guinness she drinks, not just her skill on Polytrack – and I see a sponsorship opportunity there.  Let Guinness sponsor Zenyatta, and O’Hara’s could be in Rachel’s corner – but I digress.

Should both stars deign to appear, the question then turns to who would receive an invitation to run for third place – Gabby’s Golden Gal? Pretty Unusual? Proviso?  Would Stardom Bound get another shot at the big time?  Will Life Is Sweet have to finish behind Zenyatta again?  How about some foreign competition?  And will ESPN (or even, dare I suggest, a major network) actually televise the event?

In any event, let’s hope it happens and it’s the start of a number of matchups – after all, I can’t get to Hot Springs, but I’m ready to see a rematch anywhere on the Northeast Corridor. C’mon, Delaware Park – use that slot money!

4 comments to That Would Be Nice

  • Oaklawn was brilliant to stick their neck out with such a huge purse in this econemy. If it goes through and both run in the Apple Blossom it will more than pay off. I’m hearing tons of people left and right saying they have already bought their tickets, booked their rooms and flights to Arkansas.
    If this race does happen and doesn’t make it onto ESPN then racing trully has become a “has-been”.

  • Imagine beyond a $5M race and RA/Zen develops into a true rivalry featured over a series of races? Wow! And Mr. Cella certainly knows how to lure the attraction to his little corner of the world. BTW, the $5M bonus back in 2004 was for a horse that swept the Rebel, Arkansas Derby and the Kentucky Derby; I speculate it was an effort to make Oaklawn a serious locale for the Derby trail (not that the Centennial schtick wasn’t a good ploy either). And it worked!

  • admin

    Ah, thanks for the correction, Sue – of course you’re right about the bonus! And it absolutely did work – well done to Cella there. If I recall correctly, he also placed a large bet on Smarty for the Derby.

  • Pretty scary this. Enough money to tempt even a rich owner to run his horse before she’s ready.
    Given the downside potential this early in the season, this may well generate public interest of the wrong kind as far as the survival of the sport is concerned if things break bad.

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