Suspend reality for a moment and imagine that Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta are both ready to run in the newly-minted $5 million G1 Apple Blossom Invitational at Oaklawn on April 3. Yes, I believe it’s highly-unlikely that Rachel—who has posted only one official workout since her Woodward victory on September 5—will be at her peak, but let’s assume that she proves extraordinarily-resilient and keen to run after her extended vacation, as does Zenyatta. The race distance has been extended to 9 furlongs and the handicap condition dropped in favor of an even 123 pound impost for all ten starters. It’s unlikely to be a simple match race, as the $500,000 third-place money will inevitably draw a nice field.
My question to you is, who do you invite? Again, suppose that all potential competitors are primed, and either proven or suited for dirt surface. Which eight fillies and mares would best complement the two superstars in a “race-for-the-ages”?
It’s too bad Darley retired last year’s Apple Blossom winner Seventh Street, plus Flashing, Music Note and Cocoa Beach. Unfortunately, the last filly to defeat Rachel, Sara Louise, is just a better sprinter.
So, who is left? My choices would be:
This 4-year-old Venezuelan phenomenon—winner of 16 of 18 starts, including 8 Grade 1 races in 2009 and several in open company such as the Clasico del Caribe—is already training in Florida. Sid Fernando has long chronicled her exploits and they’re well worth reading. An unknown factor that could pull an upset?
2. Careless Jewel
Last year’s G1 Alabama winner is spectacular on dirt and her crazy front-running style as witnessed in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (Ladies Classic) would certainly add an exciting element. She hasn’t posted a workout recently, though.
3. Milwaukee Appeal
Canadian champion 3-year-old filly in 2009, Milwaukee Appeal was no challenge for Careless Jewel in the G1 Alabama and finished fourth, well back of Flashing, in the G1 Gazelle in late November. However, she narrowly missed winning both the Queen’s Plate (on polytrack) and Prince of Wales Stakes (on dirt) last summer, and if even stronger at age 4, could prove a major factor in the older female category. No official works in the past 60 days.
4. Just Jenda
The G3 Monmouth Oaks winner has won 6 of 12 starts, placing in 3 others, and worked 3 furlongs at Oaklawn on Thursday—37.80 (4/23). A former Rachel “victim” who came back stronger for the experience, Just Jenda won the G3 Honeybee at Oaklawn last March.
5. Gabby’s Golden Gal
Another filly defeated by Rachel—in last year’s G1 Kentucky Oaks, to be precise—Gabby’s Golden Gal won the G1 Acorn next out, and last Sunday won the G1 Santa Monica Handicap. Distance may be an issue, but she’s in form and likes dirt.
6. Sweet Repent
Her recent victory in the Sunshine Millions Distaff at Gulfstream makes this 4-year-old a nice in-form starter.
7. Life Is Sweet
She may hate dirt, I don’t know, but I’d at least invite the reigning G1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (Ladies’ Classic) champion.
Of those without dirt experience/preference who intrigue me, the Japanese 2009 Horse of the Year mare Vodka stands out, although the current plan is to run her in the March 27 Dubai World Cup. Still, what a great international flavor it would give to have her present!
So, who would you invite and why?