Speculation is running rampant around the horse racing world at the possibility of 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra and 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic winner Zenyatta finally meeting on the track. As reported yesterday, Oaklawn Park is set to make an announcement on Thursday morning that they are calling a "Race for the Ages". Most believe that can only mean a match-up of these two titans in the G1-Apple Blossom Handicap on April 3rd.
Is it enough for us just to get Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta on the same track, or do we need more?
While I certainly hope that Oaklawn Park officials have been able to broker the match-up that many within the industry are dying to see, simply getting the big two to Arkansas is not enough for me. Specifically, I believe the purse for the Apple Blossom needs to increase significantly not just to attract Rachel and Zenyatta, but to ensure a full field of competitors. If the Apple Blossom purse were to stay at $500,000, I don't think it's a stretch to believe that the race would probably have only a three or four horse field (should the big two decide to enter). That's just not enough money to entice other fillies and mares to run in a race where they are likely to be beaten fairly bad.
I also think that absent a full field, a race between Rachel and Zenyatta would be incredibly anti-climatic. Due to Rachel Alexandra's early speed advantage it is highly unlikely that Zenyatta would have any chance to run her down from behind if she's allowed to set an easy, leisurely pace. That's not to say that I think a bunch of speed horses should be entered to try and burn Rachel out on the front end. It's just that for me, personally, Grade 1 stakes races with four or five horses don't really tell me much about the competitors. I'd rather see a big field where pace, trip, and talent all play into the final result.
So what would it take to ensure a full field of competitors for Rachel and Zenyatta? $1 million? $2 million? I'm guessing that it's probably in the $2 million range. If Oaklawn were to boost the Apple Blossom to a $2 million purse I think we can be reasonably assured of seeing Rachel, Zenyatta, and about ten of their closest friends in the starting gate on April 3rd. We'll find out tomorrow.
UPDATED: An article at the Thoroughbred Times website today indicated that Oaklawn officials are looking to make this year's Apple Blossom the richest race for females in history by raising the purse to "$3 million, $4 million , or more".