NYRA out to set up Rachel vs. Zenyatta
By David Grening
Barbara D. Livingston
Rachel Alexandra, with exercise rider Dominic Terry, trains at Saratoga on Monday morning.
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - The New York Racing Association is attempting to make the dream matchup between Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta a reality.
According to a NYRA source, NYRA is close to finalizing a deal with a sponsor either to create a race, or, more likely, enhance the purse of the Grade 1 Beldame on Oct. 3 at Belmont Park from $600,000 to $1 million in hopes of bringing the two superstar females together.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that discussions have taken place between NYRA and the connections of both horses, and there is interest. The idea is not meant to create a match race, but rather a regular race that draws the two stars
"We've talked to the owners, we've talked to the trainers. Nobody is saying no," the source said.
NYRA officials declined to comment publicly on who the sponsor might be.
John Shirreffs, the trainer of Zenyatta, who is 12 for 12 lifetime, confirmed Monday that he spoke with NYRA's racing secretary, P.J. Campo, about the race and said, "It's something to consider."
Shirreffs is focused on getting the 5-year-old Zenyatta to the Breeders' Cup on Nov. 6 or 7 at Santa Anita, and is trying to determine how best to get there. The Beldame, a one-turn 1 1/8-mile race, would be five weeks from the Breeders' Cup Classic against males on Nov. 7 or 34 days to the Ladies' Classic on Nov. 6. Zenyatta won the Clement Hirsch Handicap at Del Mar on Aug. 9 by a head. Her connections have ruled out the Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Sept. 6, but are considering the Lady's Secret at Santa Anita on Oct. 10.
"Does it work into the Breeders' Cup schedule? That is the thing we are focusing on," Shirreffs said. "We'll have to see the calendar and how it works out. It's something to consider."
Shirreffs, who had previously expressed concern about shipping Zenyatta to New York because of NYRA's race-day security barn policy, said he's not against shipping her east.
"As far as going to New York, I'd love to take Zenyatta back there and have her be seen there," he said. "I'm from Long Island. One of my wishes in life is to spend some time at Belmont Park."
The 3-year-old Rachel Alexandra, who has won her last eight races, including a six-length score in the Haskell Invitational last out, is not being pointed to the Breeders' Cup, so a race on Oct. 3 at Belmont could fit into her schedule. However, her owner, Jess Jackson has yet to announce where Rachel Alexandra is running next, so getting him or trainer Steve Asmussen to project two races down the road is not easy.
"It would be extremely exciting to get them together," Asmussen said of a potential race.
Rachel Alexandra is being considered for five races: Saturday's Grade 1 Alabama, the $1 million Travers on Aug. 29, the $300,000 Personal Ensign here on Aug. 30, the $500,000 Woodward here on Sept. 5, and the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at Philadelphia Park on Sept. 7.
- additional reporting by Jay Privman