Beyond the Money - By Evan Hammonds

(Originally published in the February 20, 2010 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)      

Whenever it’s said, “It’s not about the money,” you can bet it’s about the money.

Charles Cella, the man at the helm of Oaklawn Park since 1968, gave co-owner Jess Jackson and owner Jerry Moss five million reasons to have their champions, Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, respectively, point toward April 9 at the Hot Springs, Ark., track. As of Feb. 11, the parties have agreed to try and meet in the Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) on the day before the Arkansas Derby (gr. I).

Before Cella hit one out of the park with his “race for the ages” idea, the Apple Blossom was slated to have a purse of $500,000—already a great payout for a non-Breeders’ Cup filly and mare race.

Now, where Cella comes up with the other $4.5 million is his business, but is he “overpaying” to bring these two stars together?

While it has been made clear this is not a match race, it is necessary that both distaffers appear in the starting gate for the race to be worth the $5 million. Looking at past races “for the ages” and running their purse values through a consumer price indicator calculator available on the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Web site, revealed the following:

  • The $75,000 Kenilworth Park Gold Cup in October 1920, which was a match race between Man o’ War and Triple Crown winner Sir Barton, was worth $804,500 in today’s dollars. However, it did include a gold cup to the winner.

  • Seabiscuit and War Admiral squared off in the $15,000 Pimlico Special Nov. 1, 1938. The value of that high-profile race during the Great Depression stands at $228,230 today.

  • On Aug. 31, 1955, Nashua and Swaps met at Washington Park near Chicago for a $100,000 match race that in today’s economy would be worth $800,500.

  • The “Great Match Race” between Foolish Pleasure and Ruffian at Belmont Park July 6, 1975, had a $350,000 purse. That translates into $1,395,700 in today’s dollars.

It’s doubtful Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra would come together this year if dangled a carrot worth $1.4 million. Sports and entertainment have come a long way since the days of Seabiscuit and War Admiral.

So have the egos of some Thoroughbred owners.

In a news release issued Feb. 10, Jackson proposed a three-race series for Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, saying he had been in discussions with Alex Waldrop, president of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association to see if “training and racing schedules, as well as purse money, can be worked out.”

Purse money? A series of races?

Equibase’s Thoroughbred Racing Economic Indicators noted purses for 2009 were off 5.6% compared to 2008 figures (handle was down 9.9%). For January 2010, purses were off 10% from January 2009.

Purses are down, and a lot of tracks are struggling to stay viable. Times are as tough as they’ve been since Seabiscuit and War Admiral.

Putting together $5 million for a race with two superstars is fine, but wouldn’t that money be better spent elsewhere? Why should the tracks—already strapped for purses—have to bid to curry favor? The racing calendar affords plenty of opportunities to go a mile and an eighth against fillies and mares or against males. Pick your spot anywhere around the country and run.

While pitting “Rachel” and Zenyatta on the track already has created a lot of buzz and earned a lot of ink, this singular race, or even a series, won’t “save” racing.

If the connections want to do the right thing for racing, if offered, say, a $5-million purse, agree to run for a $2- or $3-million payout with a guarantee that the rest of the money be spent promoting the event. Give the track some firepower to make a serious run at putting together a television package to present the race in front of a national audience.

There are few open windows for national exposure on TV. The original date of the Apple Blossom, April 3, would have seen the race run during the first half of the first game of the NCAA Final Four. The afternoon of April 9 competes on the sports calendar with the second round of the Masters golf tournament.

Wouldn’t it be great if CBS took a 10- or 15-minute break from the Masters to show a “race for the ages?”

Evan Hammonds is digital media editor of The Blood-Horse


Leave a Comment:


It may be an "Excessive" amount, but it is what's "Needed".

If Jackson had his way, the 3 race series would've had to have "Equaled" the same $5 Mill anyways.

And IMO..."IF" either Rachel or Zenyatta just happened to win the first 2 in the series, then the 3rd race would've ended up as a who cares now kind of thing.

The 1 "Race For The Ages" format is the better way to go because it "Could" also set up another dramatic event down the road.

"IF" lets say...

Rachel wins the Apple Blossom and then they don't meet again till the Breeders Cup and then Zenyatta evens the score at 1 a piece.

Then your possibly right back where we were with the debate for "Horse Of The Year" again.

Gotta love the drama !!!

17 Feb 2010 5:53 PM

The Apple Blossom is the "Match" race...

But, the Breeders Cup could be the "Rematch".

Lovin' the drama !!!

17 Feb 2010 5:57 PM

While and exciting prospect to any of us who loves horse racing, one aspect of this that needs to be considered is the risk.  The public perception of racing is in bad favor with the televised breakdowns and deaths of a number of prominent horses in the past few years.  What racing needs to do first, is clean up its act,i.e. stop the use of performance enhancing drugs, better screening procedures prior to races for injured animals, quite racing two year olds, start them at three, stop the works on 18 month old horses at the sales, and do a better job of promoting the care of the horse connected with racing and other equine related sports. The tracks need to realistically make attending the track more appealing by giving away programs, down-size the cost of a beer and food at the track, limit how much they charge for a parking space and other incentives to get the betting public in the door. People hate spending $20 or $30 before they can even lay down a bet.  Make it an enjoyable experience, educate and take care of the horse, which is the center of the business.  Public perception of the sport in paramount to the future of racing.

17 Feb 2010 6:26 PM
Reincarnate me as Rachel!

The people at Oaklawn are wise to offer 5 million to bring the super mares to their track.

The number attending will not be pathetically low; both on-track and off-track betters will produce a massive handle; and the sport will receive a badly needed injection of enthusiasm.

Face it, it costs to race these horses and it is better when the situation between owners and tracks has some mutuality.

17 Feb 2010 6:29 PM

Well, you need to understand that they needed a big purse in order to possibly attract other horses. Even a third place finish would net a cool $500k, and even 10th place would register more than some stakes. The $500,000 purse might have merited two or three other horses in the race.

BTW, I believe NBC is televising the Apple Blossom, but I am not certain.

17 Feb 2010 7:04 PM
Bob Z

Was the amount excessive?  

Let me put it this way...

If this race was for 2 million dollars we would be exactly where we are now... with both horses committed to run in the Apple Blossom...

Other than the Breeders Cup is there any other race where the purse is for 2 million?  I don't know...

I would think a 2 million dollar purse and a million to market the event... would have done it...

I mean its their money... I just don't know how they are going to recoup that amount and make money...

...maybe if it was on a Saturday at night and the major networks were covering it...

By investing 5 million .. where does the income stream come from that will enable the investors to make money on that?

Team Zenyatta stepped in a pile of golden horse dung ...

...they were always pointing towards the Apple Blossom anyway... ...even with the purse at 500,000....

so just by agreeing to push the race back 6 days they stand to make 10 times the amount they would have if Zenyatta wins....

If she comes in second she will make 3 times the amount with the new 5 million purse ...than she would have winning when the purse was at 500,000...

I'd gladly wash my hands in that pile...

17 Feb 2010 7:09 PM

IF Rachel were to win the apple blossom! And Zen were to win the BREEDERS....CUP...CLASSIC...AGAIN! There would not be any doubt as to who the best horse was!  I like Rachel, but lets be serious here!   Zenyatta, in my opinion is the best, and I believe she will prove it April 9th.

17 Feb 2010 7:44 PM

Just a crazy and funny thought, the heck with the money, if these two big time owners want to really show their metal, they should run a match race for pink slips, winner takes both horses.

17 Feb 2010 9:41 PM

ive got an idea how about banning ALL DRUG USE  in the sport that way it would be about who is the best not who can afford the biggest vet bill and it would bring back racing to what it is supposed to be a competition between the best horses and who is the best horseman/woman this bs of 40% win averages is bs and it stinks so bad its killing the wonderful game that i grew up in and love as for purses they should be able to get whatever the management is willing to pay to see this race come to fruition after all what does oaklawn stand to make off of this day alone 10 20 million never mind the next day being the arkansas derby if i could id go watch both live just so i could say i was there when history was made dont forget purses are why we run take dubai for instance you really think the reason they had a record number of entrys for the world cup did not have anything to do with 10 million in purse money please

17 Feb 2010 9:53 PM

Great purse for the ultimate showdown of two great ones. I hope it attracts a full field and a record breaking crowd.

17 Feb 2010 9:54 PM

I dont know about anyone else but I am disappointed the race is occuring?  The amount is excessive but we are still talking about rachael coming back 2nd time of a 8 month layoff!  Are either going to be in their prime?  I would prefer to see something later in the year.  However, the money is needed for a big field, a small field dramatically favors rachael!  I wish it were in July or August!

17 Feb 2010 9:55 PM
blacksmith 1972

o and as for opinion who will win this believe me its zenyatta at the wire rachel is great and has one of my favorite riders boo boo is and always has been great but ive loved zenyatta from the start

17 Feb 2010 9:56 PM
John T

Of course the money is far to excessive for a race like the Apple

Blossom,but you can,t blame Oaklawn

Park for dangling the carrott and who knows how many racetracks would have tried to if they had a race like that early in the season

to attract both.No matter what the result of the race it can only lead to better things.Remember the

famous victory Sea Biscuit had in the 1940 Santa Anita H,cap after his 1938 race with War Admiral and there

is one sure fact about history,it has a lovely habit of repeating itself,and unlike Sea Biscuit we won,t have a 2 year gap.

17 Feb 2010 10:13 PM
Bob Z


Everybody is entitled to their opinion... here is a counter point to your opinion on Zenyatta...

I love both of them... If Rachel is healthy and ready I think she takes the Apple Blossom...

17 Feb 2010 10:26 PM

Mr Cella

 Bent over backwards to make this race happen when he did'nt have to.

 Runs Oaklawn with pride in his family's business. His business plan appears to be better than many tracks across the county.

 Recognizes a chance to be part of history, for himself and the track.

  Is no fool with money, yet as a man in his mid-seventies, he can afford to endulge himself with projects that excite him.

17 Feb 2010 11:03 PM

I think this will be a great race, with a $5 Million purse. Lets say $4 Million to the horsemen and

$1 Million to the fans. If you go to that track or somewhere to bet.

You have a chance at winning 1 of 4000, [$250.00] instant money voucher on that race. We need to bring the fans to racing. Lets spread the wealth around.

17 Feb 2010 11:08 PM

In view of the following exerpt from an article by Jerry Bossert that appeared in the New York Daily News on Sept, 7, 2009, that sporting fellow Jesse Jackson had a definite influence on the purse offered for the Apple Blossom.

Even the Oct. 3 Beldame at Belmont Park is doubtful despite the promise of a $1 million purse if both Rachel and undefeated mare Zenyatta show up.

"Not at that purse level", the founder of Kendall-Jackson wines said.

"I don't think even Zenyatta or Rachel should race. That wouldn't be enough. The NYRA has been very supportive and I don't want to sound like I'm not appreciative of what they've done, but in a real world it would be a major league and these purses would be $5 million not $500,000."

Jerry Bossert is the turf writer for the aforementioned newspaper.

17 Feb 2010 11:54 PM

The 5 million is excessive but OP has been doing well where many other tracks are not so lucky. Their gaming area helps support the horseracing. Why shouldn't an owner of a track take some of that profit (from his own pocket) and put it back into the industry?

What I'd love to see is for the  owners of these horses to donate a small percentage of the purse to a horse retirement/welfare organization of the owners choosing. Even a small percentage of this purse could go a long way. That way everyone would win...especially the horses.

18 Feb 2010 12:04 AM
Josh A

the reason there is 5 million dollars is because they need to attract other entries into the race. Jackson stated several times that he would NOT want a match race. The 3rd place finisher in a 5million dollar race will receive  over 500K. That will give some incentive to owners to run their horses to try and nab the 3rd spot and running 3rd to RA and Zenyatta isn't bad at all!

18 Feb 2010 12:33 AM

the price is FAIR, i'd say.  It costs a lot to EARN a lot. Besides, if NBC will televise the AB, PLEASE PLEASE inform EVERYBODY by all means.  I am dying to see RACHEL race again, and I would certainly GLUE myself to any channel broadcasting the AB. If Oaklawn play their cards right, the whole state might benefit from this race -- the hotels, airlines, car rentals, the fast-food chains, Oaklawn racing assn, souvenir shops.. even the hotdog stands near the race course!!  MARKETING for this race should JUMP START right about NOW if they want to earn back their 5 mil investment in the AB.

18 Feb 2010 2:42 AM

Gary, love the idea it would just be like that show Pinks I think it is. Very funny still giggling at the idea. The Amount may be a bit excessive but if you think about it how else are you going to attract other horses to the race without that kind of pay out for 3rd, 4th, 5th ect. I just don't think it would have happen any other way and not completely convinced it will still happen.

18 Feb 2010 5:33 AM
Fran Loszynski

I don't think the money will be that important-look at all the earnings these two horses have made-been there, done that. I just hope if one of these horses has a mistep in the gate that she will be scratched without forethought and the money becomes secondary to the jockey and racehorse's safety.  

18 Feb 2010 8:24 AM

WE look at this purse as excessive for racing, but look at what the other sports pay their players, millions. I think it is just keeping in line with the rest of the sporting world. Racing needs this, to try to help pull it out of the hole it is in.

18 Feb 2010 8:40 AM

I believe that the reason the purse is set at 5 million as an incentive for other horses to run. Who wants to run for 3rd or worse for a meager 2 million? With the purse being set that high everyone will say "well if I run 5th or so Ill still make more than most stakes " and then go ahead and take the shot.

18 Feb 2010 9:11 AM

It is a little excessive, but the fans really want this, and the game really need this. It would be REALLY worth it if the race was advertised, touted as much as possible, made an even bigger deal, to bring casual fans or non-fans into this thrilling race and this thrilling sport, since racing is hurting so much lately.

18 Feb 2010 11:10 AM
Mary in VT

I don't have any trouble believing that Cella's dream race is not about the money. This is bigger than dinero. Any amount of dinero. Racing has been salivating for stars of this magnitude for decades. Now that we have not one, but two, getting them on the same stage has more potential to infuse new interest in racing than anything else on the horizon.

The Triple Crown series has it's place, but as wonderful as it is, it alone will not save racing because although it certainly has had more than sufficient opportunity to draw whatever interest it can from new fans, it isn't keeping enough of them for the sport to survive, let alone thrive. The Breeders' Cup does even less.

A purse of five million for a race that starts both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta doesn't just give their owners a good reason to show up and face off, it gives potential new fans a reason to believe that the contest is of a magnitude that deserves their attention; that two "once in a lifetime" horses have appeared at the same moment in history and these titans of the sport will clash on April 9th.

My regret is that they didn't schedule a meeting of these two great ladies of the sport on Derby day given that there is a huge pool of potential fans that only watch that one race all year long. By the time they turn on their televisions looking for the KY Derby, even if the Apple Blossom is mentioned, or replayed, it will not have the same impact.

From the bitterness of Jerry Mosses post Eclipse Award ceremony remarks, I get the distinct feelin' he would have stalked Rachel and tried to mow her down with out any added incentive at all. No, it's not about the money for Jerry Moss. Oh, he'll take it all right, but that's not why he is going.

Jess Jackson, on the other hand, has always focused on the big picture. That, by the way, is the secret to his three consecutive HOY trophies, but I digress. His multi-race series was exactly what was needed to showcase horse racing, and to capture those casual fans forever. My guess is he settled for a one race match up with a worthy purse because, other than Mr. Cella, he was not working with men of equal vision who understand that you have to spend money to make money.

As for Mr. Cella, people will still be talking about him, his beloved Oaklawn Park, and the battle that was waged there a hundred years from now. Being so well loved by posterity is cheap at any price.

18 Feb 2010 11:13 AM

In case you didn't know, Oaklawn isn't suffering.  They raised their purses during the middle of their meet last year...not once...but twice.  They are good for money.  Not a big deal.  Not to mention the purse structure of the race guarantees quite a few fillies and mares will show up (100,000 just for starting isn't chump change).  It should be a good race.  If it was another track, then complaining about the purse might be valid...but not with Oaklawn.

As for TV...I'd rather be up against golf than the Final Four.  Does anyone actually care about golf?  I would bet the Triple Crown races shown on TV brings in better ratings than the Masters...and this race would also.

18 Feb 2010 12:52 PM
Mary in VT

Any computer geeks out there?

I have always thought that it would be interesting to see all of Zenyatta's races at a given distance superimposed over all of Rachel's races at that same distance. Just for giggles. And to give us something to obsess over while we wait for the "race for the ages."

No, they wouldn't be responding to each other. And no, they wouldn't be responding to the exact same pace scenario. But .. they would *finally* be in the same race. And you don't have to pay the winner $5,000,000.00.

I wonder ... would one horse win all the time? Most of the time? Dead even? Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

18 Feb 2010 12:57 PM
street sense

did it ever occur to anybody neither one of these great     champions may be as good as they were last year. fillies are really unpredictable year by year which means at the end of the year neither one will be in the horse of the year discussion

18 Feb 2010 1:23 PM

We bought our tickets for the Apple Blossom and Arkansas Derby months ago. Since at that time Zenny was "retired", the idea of her meeting up with Rachel was not even a thought. We should all recall that Mr. Cella put up a $5 million bonus for any horse who won the Rebel, Arkansas Derby and Kentucky Derby during Oaklawn's Centennial Celebration. It was won by Smarty Jones. Oaklawn does benefit from its gaming center; however, the big plus will be the amount of dollars pumped into the Hot Springs economy by the 100,000 or so fans expected to overwhelm the local restaurants and hotels. Grandstand seating is sold out. I understand tickets are available on Ebay to the highest bidder. Oaklawn Park has a website available which lists still available lodging ( I’m not a fan of crowds and have suggested to My Boss that we try scoring a windfall on Ebay ourselves. However, she loves both Zenny and Rachel and is much too thrilled that she has this chance to see both Champions in action to even think of good ol’ greed. As far as I know, Mr. Cella is spending his own money to pay for this extravaganza. His money. He earned it. God bless him for providing My Boss this thrill!

18 Feb 2010 4:47 PM

That's more $ than The Kentucky Derby!!!! I like Zenyatta and only one race can't prove which horse is better!! I'm going to laugh if in the Apple Blossom a long shot beats BOTH horses!!!

18 Feb 2010 7:15 PM

I thought Steve Christ had an excellent column on the same topic but with a slightly different spin.  If anyone is interested:

18 Feb 2010 10:48 PM
Geo from MO

Have you ever been to Oaklawn Park duing the last week of the meet? Strong fan support, great racing in the stakes races, AFFORDABLE tickets and great customer service.  Just the way racing should be today in NY, CA, KY, FLA.  Mr. Cella is just saying thanks to the patrons who have supported OP for the last hundred years.  By the way, I have been an Oaklawn and Hot Springs fan since 1976

18 Feb 2010 10:58 PM

I agree John T, that is what attracted Smarty Jones and a few others to win a 3 race series there back in 04.

19 Feb 2010 4:31 PM

Mary in VT...the secret to Jess Jackson's 3 HOY trophies isn't focusing on the big picture, it's deep pockets. He bought 2 superstar horses AFTER it was already clear they were special, and just rode the wave.  

This will be the biggest race between two rivals in my lifetime (and I'm not young).  The $5M purse is befitting.  And, like others have stated, it is to attract other horses to the field.

19 Feb 2010 5:50 PM

Only live about 15 min. from track and cannot wait.Hopefully both  remain in good shape and primed to fire. Thank you yet again Mr. Charles Cella for getting this together. most are upset it will not be on Saturday, but with already 50-70,000 here every year for the Arkansas Derby. There would simply not be enough room to fit everybody. Running it before Derby day is genius. If you have to travel to come watch Rachel and Zen, it would seem foolish not to stay and watch the Arkansas Derby on Sat. This race has produced Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, Lawyer Ron, Curlin, Gayego, and Summer Bird. Chances are a triple crown race winner will come from the Arkansas Derby. That means Mr. Cella will have more people in attendance on Derby day now with the apple blossom Friday. You talk about attendance dropping Oaklawn may set attendance records on consecutive days with over 100,000 est. for the apple blossom. Cella is a genius and that is why a litle race track in Arkansas is constantly raising purses. While the big boys drown in debt. Oaklawn continues to thrive. Go Rachel

19 Feb 2010 7:32 PM

spa city,live in little rock and agree with all you say.Been going to Oaklawn for 40 years and enjoy our quality of racing,our hospitality,and our affordable prices.I have been telling all my co-workers and friends who are marginal horse racing fans about the race and now they are all pumped and telling their friends.As horse racing fans we can all do this to market the race to folks that know little about it.Thank goodness we have Cella,he did a pretty good job promoting Smarty huh?

19 Feb 2010 11:05 PM

I am glad the race is going to take place but I think 5 million is way excessive in these times! I also think it's sad that he felt that is what it would take to get them to run. I know it will make the race easier to fill, but at a couple million the rest of the field would still have had a chance at a rare payday. I also was very disappointed to hear Jackson make the comment about the purse for the Beldame.  If he is the sportsman that he claims to be and that I thought he was, then the amount of money should not be an issue. (Obviously there needs to be purse money - but he is already super rich so that makes him sound greedy to me!) All races have established purses so if you think a purse is too low, then choose the tougher races for more money.  BUT, just because you have superstar does not mean suddenly the tracks should have to pay more to have the horse run there.  They are race horses and they are meant to RACE, not be bargaining chips for money in my opinion!!

20 Feb 2010 10:57 AM

Reading the comments, on here and other blogs, from the people in the Oaklawan area, I'm struck with how friendly and welcoming you guys are. I've never visited your beautiful state but I'm putting it on my list of "places to go, people to meet".

I'll be watching on TV, wishing I was there.

20 Feb 2010 11:10 AM
Claire Novak

Right on, Mr. Hammonds.  

20 Feb 2010 1:00 PM

2 comments.... the 5 Million is but a drop in the bucket compared to what other sports figures make, and it sure would be nice to watch a horse race instead of golf on television. Horse racing needs to get on the ball and promote this sport like any other does... there was a time when it was at the top of the list.. now it's sunk so far down you can barely find it in the sports pages of some major newspapers.....

20 Feb 2010 2:20 PM

They say its not a match race but it is. Thier pinning one horse against another and forgetting about the other horses that may, OR MAY NOT enter. 5 mil is way too much even for two horses of thier caliber. how about 2 mil? is that fair? i dont like this race at all. its too soon in the year and i think these girls are going to be pushed too hard and over trained and maybe even overraced to prepare for it and i just keep seeing Ruffian and Go For Wand. i will hate to see another Ruffian incident especially with the two greatest horses of this past year. the fans will walk away forever if something goes wrong. it wont be that exciting either until the homestetch because rachel is a frontrunner and zenyatta is a closer. rachel is too crazy to relaz througout the race and zenyatta will have relaxed and when its time to make it count rachel will be beyond exertion while zenyatta will be just starting to go and itllbe closer than rachel's woodward, which i witnessed! (it was awesome)! this will not be good for racing. already NYRA is almost bankrupt!

20 Feb 2010 3:20 PM

I don't want to see Zenyatta lose her winning streak but I don't want to see Rachel lose hers either. I want Rachel to win but honestly, i think its a bad idea. and the mosses might send out a rabbit!

20 Feb 2010 3:23 PM
Pam S.

It's a very large purse, to be sure.  I think it had to be to attract other competitors (as several folks have mentioned).  Mr. Cella is obviously a gambling man and a man who loves racing.  I really think his motivation was to try to give the fans what they want.  I applaud him for his efforts and hope he is rewarded.

Jess Jackson's grand plan notwithstanding, I also think this might be the only meeting of the two stars.  Some writers have indicated that just one race will not settle the question of who is better.  I'm not sure I agree.  Each of these ladies pretty much runs her race every time (certainly Zenyatta does).  I just feel like a rematch isn't going to be necessary, or nearly as anticipated as the one, the only, the unparalleled Apple Blossom Invitational!!

I guess that's mainly why I'm not opposed to the $5 mil pot -- it's a once in a lifetime race.  Having a three-race series with three huge purses is a different matter.  I wouldn't support that.  

20 Feb 2010 10:37 PM

ANN:  I don't agree with Crist's very negative view of the AB's 5 mil gamble.  

First, we aren't talking about Anabaa's Creation or a Jackson Bend here-- we are talking about the HOY 2009, Rachel, and the California super diva, Zenyatta!  These 2 alone have MORE fans than all the colts in the 2009 Kentucky derby!  

Second, the race is already MARKETING ITSELF-- fans and horse lovers are seeking this race out, so with just a little LUCK, Cella may actually get his 5 mil back, plus change!  

Third, the TIMING is just right-- the weather is warmer, and people are bringing out their Sunday dresses for the Derby.  No chance that a thunderstorm will turn the track into a pond!  So, we can expect a record attendance from all horse-loving folks and fans!

Fourth, the AB is well-supported.  Jackson and Moss supports it, all the TB orgs including NTRA support it, Cella supports it.  

The only thing that could spoil this Garden party is if any of the two superstars don't show up.  But I don't think that is likely.


21 Feb 2010 5:19 AM
Mike G.

The $5M purse seemed ridiculously high at first.  But if they want to attract other horses to the race, then it makes sense.  To enhance their participation, I think I would have distributed the purse more evenly instead of giving a super-majority of the money to the top two finishers.  But I have to wonder if any East Coast filly or mare really wants to race against Zenyatta, the only female winner of the Breeders' Cup Classic and a previous winner of the Ladies Classic??  They can skip this race and run against softer competition on the East Coast.  So it wouldn't surprise me if Rachel does not show.  

21 Feb 2010 5:02 PM

Pink slips..please...Zenyatta in Steve Asmussen and Jess Jackson's hands....I don't think so.  I very much dislike the fact that Rachel is in their hands.  I have a feeling that if they had Zenyatta, she would be retired or worse by now.

22 Feb 2010 2:14 AM



22 Feb 2010 11:10 AM

Lets get real, having them race on a friday is a horrible idea.

With the sport circling the bowl, we need to have our biggest draw in years broadcasted to the nation on a day people can watch it.

if oaklawn was smart they would have this race on saturday then the country could see the two best racehorses in america and they would have more potential views of the arkansas derby

22 Feb 2010 11:39 AM
frank p. clearwater, fl.

some, if not all the monies could come from hollywood, i look back at the seabiscuit movie...the plot could already be in the making.

on another one talked about or mentioned young two year olds running on synthetic surfaces,

i see nothing wrong with two year olds racing providing the races are kept at four , no longer than five furlongs and only on dirt.

22 Feb 2010 12:39 PM

First of all I don't know why so many people think running on a Friday is a bad idea. Alot of big female races are run on Friday like the Kentucky Oaks,Black Eyed Susan,and the female Breeders Cup races. From a financial standpoint it makes a lot of sense for Cella to get back some of his money. With the Arkansas Derby being run the next day you have two big days of racing instead of one and alot of the people who travel from out of state will stay for both cards therefore increasing attendance and handle for the Arkansas Derby. Lets not forget that Sam Houston offered $2,000,000 so I think that Cella wanted to make sure he was the highest bidder because you know that other tracks would start offering 2.5 and 3 million. Jackson seems to think this is boxing with a rematch clause in the contract with his 3 race series. He obviously doesn't like his chances of defeating Zenyatta. Why else would he want three shots at her? I'll tell you why. He's afraid Zenyatta beats RA and then Rachel's so called legacy goes down the drain. As i've stated many times Zenyatta faced the better competion last year hands down. The 3 year old crop last year was pathetic except for the late devoping Summer Bird and Quality Road. Rachel's win in the Preakness wasn't impressive since she was all out to hold off MTB who only had one win all of last year. Her win in the Haskell was against the same group of weak 3 year olds except for Summer Bird who needs at least 10 furlongs and she barely beat a field of grade 3 caliber horses in the Woodward. Zenyatta was flattered when Life is Sweet won the Ladies Classic and she beat the winners of 19 grade or group 1 races in the Breeders Cup Classic. Quality over quantity. There needs to be a change in the Eclipse voting system because synthetic surfaces were supposed to help the sport but instead they are killing it. All you have to do is look at the winners of the Eclipse Awards to see that people won't vote for horses racing over synthetics.

22 Feb 2010 1:18 PM

I think 5 million is a big gamble.

These two mares are not 'rivals' as I would term it, not the way Alydar and Affirmed or Sunday Silence and Easy Goer were.  Those colts who met each other again and again, eye to eye in races they *made* special, not races made special for them.

No, the more and more I see of this, the more it looks to be another Ruffian / Foolish Pleasure situation and at this point I just hope both mares come back in one piece and continue to run.

You've got two very different running styles, two different ages going against each other for a 'media frenzy' event.  I also keep flashing to Go for Wand, who laid her heart and her body out on the track trying to get in front of that older mare, a similar situation with Serena's Song I believe and of course Ruffian.

We are no longer in the day and age of the iron horse like Sea Biscuit and War Admiral.  Today's modern thoroughbred is proving time again to be all heart and will but on more and more fragile legs.

Maybe in that respect the 5 million isn't such a bad gamble.  In trying to beat each other, one or both of these great horses could destroy themselves either physically or mentally.  I'll be pleasently surprised if both these great mares come out of their head to head match race (because that's what it is) with all their limbs and more importantly their great hearts, still intact.

But I have a bad feeling one of them won't race again after April 9th.

Horseracing seems to refuse to learn from it's own history.

22 Feb 2010 3:00 PM
frank p. clearwater, fl.

do you remember the movie  "seabiscuit"...wouldn't this race between rachel & zenyatta make for another heart warming sequel...

22 Feb 2010 4:07 PM
Pam S.

I wish "fans" of this sport would quit being negative about the Apple Blossom.  Once and for all, it is not a match race; I'm sure an effort will be made to recruit as many quality horses as possible to fill out the field and it will NOT NECESSARILY boil down to Z vs. RA.  

I agree with L that this race more closely resembles the contrived "Great Match Race" rather than a genuine rivalry such as Affirmed and Alydar.  But the vast majority of fans wanted to see the two superstar females in the same race, and Mr. Cella tried to make it happen.  We missed Curlin vs. Big Brown, Smarty and Alex vs. older, and the list goes on .... should racing fans be deprived of what they are hoping to see when there is no compelling reason not to have this race?

Yes, racing has a tragic history.  But it has a glorious history too, and we want to add to it rather than have all the glory be part of the past.  If we keep bringing up Ruffian all the time, we should just discontinue the sport.  I mean, it goes without saying that no one wants to see a gallant horse break down.  But what DO we want to see?

Tim, I tend to agree with you that Jackson wants three races because he fears Rachel will lose the first one.  But he SAYS he wants it to sustain the fans' interest and truly prove which horse is better.  How 'bout that, Nervous Nellies, he is the owner of one of these magnificent animals and he wants to have TWO MORE renewals of this great and terrible matchup!!  How reckless is he?!

23 Feb 2010 11:58 AM

It is very sad.  Today, many tracks are cutting purses for races and the industry supports and encourages the super-rich to award themselves with a $5M race to attract only 2 horses.  Yes, I want to see RA and Z race but I prefer to have an international ambassador like Z travel to other countries to increase the perceived value of American-bred thoroughbreds. RA could also represent USA internationally but Z's undefeated status makes her more interesting.  We degrade both by allowing one to challenge the other simply for money in this country.

24 Feb 2010 5:21 PM
Forbidden Apple

The $5 million purse is a hefty price to pay to watch the best versus the best. I would say 100% that this high price was negotiated because of pressure from team Rachel. After all they did pay $12-$15 for Rachel and they treat her like royalty. Zenyatta was going to run even if the purse was $500,000. If Oaklawn did not step up and offer this money, we might never see these 2 champions compete against each other. An alternative was the Dubai World Cup which is worth $10 million this year. But I forgot that Jackson is afraid to run his baby on a synthetic surface. We should all be happy that this race is happening at all and in our own country.

Racing does not need a modern day match race period! It is very difficult for me to write anything on this topic without mentioning the immortal Ruffian. A prep race should set both horses up for a peak performance, the best horse will win the Apple Blossom.

As for the promotion of the event I did hear about 25,000 cards being produced for Rachel and 25,000 for Zenyatta. I would like to see Oaklawn promote this as if it was a heavyweight boxing match. Does anyone remember when boxing promoted Ali vs. Foreman in Zaire? Print up thousands of posters and pin them up in airports and train stations around the country. Also put the posters up for sale on the Oaklawn website so that all of us can own a piece of this historic race. To me this is a huge opportunity to promote horse racing and attract new fans. ESPN is to busy covering poker, bowling, pool, and golf, these are games not even sports. Somehow the days of Phar Lap, Seabiscuit, Secretariat, Ruffian, and Seattle Slew need to resurface again. I see this as a great American Prize Fight with the speed happy champion trying to duck the hungry knockout artist named Zenyatta. So in the end I am pleased that $ is the force to bring about this long awaited matchup.

25 Feb 2010 8:38 PM

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