02/19/2010 1:00AM

Letters to the Editor


Match of titans winds up belittled by scheduling

As a lifelong racing fan, Thoroughbred owner, and sports fan in general, I have to say that when I read the news of an agreement in principle to run Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park ("Cella: Rachel-Zenyatta showdown is back on," Feb. 13), I could not have been more ecstatic.

I immediately began searching for flights to Hot Springs, Ark., to be there to witness this monumental day in racing. Unfortunately there were no direct flights from New York, and getting there would be almost impossible for just the short weekend.

So the next thing I did was call all of my casual racing fan friends to begin to hype the greatest race of the last few decades. Maybe even have a viewing party like I do for the Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup to try to get some other people involved in the sport I love so much. Rachel vs. Zenyatta - a story the whole country could get attached to.

If the Breeders' Cup gets more than a million households tuned in, then with the right promotion and just a hint of interest by the networks, this race could probably draw in two or three times that. Maybe it could be the biggest non-Derby Day telecast in racing history.

So all the stars were aligned and racing may finally have its day: Saturday, April 10. A major network covers the Arkansas Derby followed by the Apple Blossom, with tens of thousands in attendance and millions watching around the world. Right?

Wrong. My enthusiasm soon turned to disgust when I realized that the Apple Blossom will be run on a Friday, with little if any national network coverage. Why not spend a little time promoting these two amazing individuals and run the race on Saturday for the entire country to see?

Bravo to owners Jess Jackson and Jerry and Ann Moss for keeping these two running in an attempt to salvage whatever fan base is left for the sport of kings. Unfortunately, it seems no one has the same passion to keep the fire burning.

I keep telling people racing is a sport on life support. I just didn't realize that the people running this circus have already pulled the plug.

Steven Schoenfeld - Muttontown, N.Y.

Oaklawn's chief a spirited leader

In the medical field, there are doctor's doctors, and in law there are the lawyers from whom fellow lawyers seek opinion. In the world of Thoroughbred sportsmen, we have a genuine sporting soul in Charles Cella, owner of Oaklawn Park.

His sporting spirit has shown through. In the stroke of a calendar-writing pen, the howl over the Rachel Alexandra-Zenyatta affair has been hushed. The sure hand in charge was none other than Mr. Cella's. It is also of no small note that the hand holding the bag of cash belongs to the same man. To him, we all owe a great deal of gratitude. As Steven Crist pointed out, though, in his Feb. 14 column, "Dream matchup a pricey promotion," repaying that debt will not be so easy.

Certainly a Friday afternoon in April is not the ideal platform to stage the most desired Thoroughbred race in recent memory, but as the saying goes, never look a gift horse in the mouth. And Mr. Cella has certainly delivered every horse racing fan a genuine gift.

A debt of gratitude is of course also owed to Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Moss and the entire Zenyatta team. Whether the big mare's presumed retirement was a clever ploy to garner Horse of the Year support or a genuine belief that she had came, seen, and conquered does not matter at this point. Without Zenyatta having been kept in racing shape and the Mosses keeping their belief that she is genuinely better than Rachel, this race would not have been possible either.

So if and when the dust settles over the Hot Springs track on April 9, 2010, and one of these phenomenal female athletes lays claim to the title as the greatest Thoroughbred living, let us all remember that the real hero of the day was Charles Cella.

Richard Ilharreguy - Sacramento, Calif.