After being in Hot Springs for the weekend to witness a riveted 50th edition of the Rebel Stakes (blog to follow later in week), I have some advice for billionaire wine magnate Jess Jackson. Stay the hell out of Hot Springs for the foreseeable future. On second thought, stay entirely out of the state of Arkansas for a really long time. Bert the cabbie hates your freakin' guts. As does Billy the bellman at Arlington Park. Sue the waitress at Hester's restaurant called you a really despicable name and my nephew Daniel Lee thinks you are a scaredy-cat. And I think they all have a right in their opinion considering you cost many of these people the most lucrative payday in their careers. And that's saying something at Billy's age!
Of course, I'm speaking of his decision to withdraw Rachel from the Oaklawn showdown with Zenyatta in 4 weeks that Charles Cella had previously moved back to accomodate him! During my time in the Spa City (of the south, anyway) I polled those in service trades what their expected financial impact would be from the "Race for the Ages" and if they believed the race would actually happen. To my astonishment, none believed the race WOULDN'T happen! Typically responses were, "What are you talkin' bout? They done already said they were gonna race here!" Might sound a tad naive, but in the Natural state a man is only as good as his word.
Yep, they were already counting their money from the 100,000 or so additional horse lovers expected to come from all corners of the land. Rumors (some perhaps true, others exaggerated) swirled about "the sheik" who tried to reserve the entire Arlington hotel but had to settle for another hotel off the strip and many lake houses being booked for $200,000 for the weekend. Stories of Oaklawn seats and boxes selling for up to 5 times the price of season seats! Many of these transactions were already consummated, but for most of the mom and pop businesses their revenue depends on actual headcount and that will surely drop after the dream match is history.
And what about the announcement from Jess Jackson, "While she is healthy, just as I had anticipated, she is not in top form. Therefore, I decided today she will not be going to the Oaklawn Invitational on April 9. Steve and I discussed this fully and we now regret we tried to accelerate her training in order meet the Apple Blossom schedule." This doesn't resemble an apology as much as it hints at ire towards Oaklawn Park for "rushing the devolopment" of last year's wonder horse, Rachel Alexandra. Rather than expressing regret to the fans and to Charles Cella, owner of Oaklawn Park, for his multiple commitments and then going back on his word he reminds us all through "just as I had anticipated" he is some form of oracle who is to be praised for his wisdom. It's yet another example of how his ego is actually turning people against one of the greatest racehorses of this or any eras. Much like it went down with Curlin a couple of years ago after his synthetic flop in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita. The pattern is a trail of excuses with Jess Jackson, just as he had laid them out even before Rachel's New Orleans Ladies classic defeat.
What is most unfortunate is that this news is further distraction to the real story that is ZENYATTA. Oaklawn's press release reminded me that Zenyatta (who still plans on racing in the Apple Blossom, by the way, in spite of its reduced 500K purse without Rachel's presence) will be trying to equal Cigar and Citation's U.S. record of 16 consecutive unrestricted race wins. This is an incredible achievement that at the time of Cigar's record in 1996 many believed would be harder to accomplish than another triple crown champion. So don't think that the crowd will be any less jubilant in seeing a deserving champion, albeit smaller in numbers. The only thing Arkansans enjoy better than a good day at the track is Razorback football and the Hogs are out of season. I know I will be thrilled to see "Big Zen" for a third time, especially after pushing around the Grade I field in the stretch of the Santa Margarita (the race, not the drink) in California. Just don't expect those in attendance to be celebrating on race day with any Kendall Jackson wines!