Exactly six weeks from today the "Race for the Ages" is supposed to take place at Oaklawn Park. Whether or not Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta meet in the Apple Blossom remains to be seen, but we have reasons to be hopeful.
If you are wondering why there has been little promotion for the event so far, there are a couple of factors at work here. First, and most importantly, a television deal must be worked out to determine which network will carry the event. I was told by a source close to the situation today that an announcement should be coming within the next week about a major network signing on to carry the race. Once that deal is finalized, an advertising pitch can begin to take form.
The other thing to consider is the March 13 prep races for both horses. Before large scale advertising begins, logic would tell us that we need to make sure both horses come out of their respective races sound--Rachel in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes and Zenyatta in the Santa Margarita Invitational. Obviously, without the health of both horses, we have nothing. Hopefully, if and when both horses exit their races soundly and the connections give the go ahead, we will begin to see ads on our TV screens, and in our newspapers and magazines by Mid-March.
Because of the poor job that horse racing has done of promoting itself in the recent past, I am one of many who has been skeptical of how well this event will be handled. But we must remember this is a show being created by Charles Cella, the owner of Oaklawn Park, who is putting up $5 million of his own money to make it happen. Cella more than anyone else needs this event to be a success. Because of this, and the fact that he has been a successful promoter of his racetrack in the past and a positive influence on racing for many years, we should give Cella the benefit of the doubt that this will be done right.
Many have questioned Cella's decision to have the race on a Friday instead of a weekend. I may be in the minority here, but I think it can be a good move. For those of you that think it will be a late afternoon post, you are way off. I was told by the same source that the race will likely be scheduled for 6:45 p.m. CDT, which would make it a prime time event on the East Coast. If it were held on the Saturday or Sunday of that weekend, the Masters golf tournament might overlap the pre-race coverage. A Friday night horse racing might seem a bit unorthodox at first mention, but it will also have a new, exciting feel that could work out just fine.
The other exciting thing about the Apple Blossom is that we can expect a full field in the gate and it probably will include some pretty decent horses. This was insured by Cella when he created an enticing purse structure that will earn the third-place finisher $500,000 and guarantee $100,000 to the last-place horse. Who wouldn't want to show up with those crazy numbers?
So far, these 10 horses have been nominated--Bambera, Black Magic Mamma, Just Jenda, Justwhistledixie, Love To Tell, My Baby Baby, Stardom Bound, Striking Dancer, Sweet Repent, and Unforgotten--and Careless Jewel is also likely to throw her name into the mix. Bambera is a South American sensation who was last year's Horse of the Year in Venezuela and is 14-for-16 in her career. Clair Novak profiled the 4-year-old on ESPN.com.
So, as you can see things are beginning to take shape and we have a lot to be excited about. Let's remain optimistic and hope both stars remain healthy as we enjoy the anticipation over the next six weeks.