02/12/2010 12:00AM

Slop doesn't stop Rachel's work


NEW ORLEANS - Following owner Jess Jackson's announcement Thursday evening that Rachel Alexandra will make her first start of 2010 in the March 13 New Orleans Ladies, the 2009 Horse of the Year worked five furlongs over a sloppy Fair Grounds track Friday morning.

Led on a pony ridden by Steve Asmussen's assistant trainer Scott Blasi, and with regular exercise rider Dominic Terry aboard, Rachel Alexandra went to the track at 6:30 and put in one of only two works recorded at Fair Grounds for the day. With standing water on the track in places, she covered five furlongs in 1:03.80, with the wind and rain blowing steadily against her in the stretch.

"Steve told us to go between 1:03 and 1:04, so it was exactly what we were looking for," said Blasi, who oversaw the work in Asmussen's absence. "I am very happy with how she went. She's moving so well."

Rachel Alexandra went in fairly pedestrian fractions. She was timed by Fair Grounds clocker Billy Pettingill in 13.40 seconds, 26.20, 38.60, and 51.60, with her final furlong going in 12.20.

The work was the third of the year for Rachel Alexandra and her first at five furlongs. She had previously worked a half-mile in 52 seconds on Jan. 31 and a half in 50.60 on Feb. 6.

Jackson's commitment to race Rachel Alexandra in the $200,000 New Orleans Ladies and the looming meeting with Zenyatta in the April 9 Grade 1 Apple Blossom - which will have a $5 million purse if both horses run - has added a degree of time pressure to her conditioning. Blasi did not commit to the workout, however, until he had inspected the track and made sure conditions were safe.

"I went out and watched the first set over the track, and I thought the track was in great shape," said Blasi. "The work keeps us in our routine and we'll be able to add to that next week."

On Thursday night, Jackson told Fair Grounds officials that Rachel Alexandra would be pointed to the 1 1/16-mile New Orleans Ladies, a race created by the Fair Grounds this season in the hope that Rachel Alexandra would use it to begin her 2010 campaign.

"There are other tracks that have offered to have us go, but right now we would prefer to stay here," Jackson said.

The unusually wet winter in New Orleans has made it difficult for Rachel Alexandra's connections to prepare her for her season debut.

"It's not anyone's fault, but with the rain and the track conditions it's been a serious setback to Rachel's routine," Jackson said. "When you're training a horse, it's an animal that needs to have a regular routine and Steve's been hard-pressed to keep her going given the weather."

Earlier Thursday, Charles Cella, the owner of Oaklawn Park, said the Rachel Alexandra-Zenyatta showdown in the Apple Blossom was on after Oaklawn agreed to move the date of the race back six days on the calendar, to April 9. A day earlier, Jackson had withdrawn Rachel Alexandra from Apple Blossom consideration because he said she would not be ready for the race on its scheduled date of April 3.

If both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta run in the Apple Blossom, the purse of the race will be increased from $500,000 to $5 million. The winner would receive 50 percent ($2.5 million) of the purse. The other splits would be: second, 20 percent ($1 million); third, 10 percent ($500,000); fourth, 6 percent ($300,000); fifth, 4 percent ($200,000); with all remaining starters receiving 2 percent ($100,000) each.

If both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta start, the Apple Blossom field will be limited to 10. The distance of the Apple Blossom has been lengthened from 1 1/16 miles to 1 1/8 miles for this year's running regardless of whether Rachel Alexandra or Zenyatta starts.