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Zardana Upsets Rachel Alexandra in New Orleans Ladies

The festive overflow crowd estimated at more than 12,000—the largest since the track’s reopening following Hurricane Katrina—might have thought it was the worst of times, but even in gallant defeat, it might eventually salvage more of the best of times for Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, who bowed to Brazilian-bred Zardana by three-quarters of a length in Saturday’s $200,000 New Orleans Ladies at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.

“She was basically beat when that other horse (Zardana) went by her – but she didn’t quit,” said Rachel Alexandra’s jockey Calvin Borel after the race. “She dug in and fought right back and stayed with the winner the rest of the way. That’s the kind of racehorse she is. My little filly tried her heart out. She just needed the race, that’s all.”

However, to the victor go the spoils, and Zardana, who began her career with three straight wins at Hipodromo da Gavea in Brazil, has now expanded her unbeaten streak on a dirt surface to four. Owned by Arnold Zetcher, trained by John Shirreffs and ridden by California-based jockey David Flores, Zardana, who as a Brazilian-bred was foaled exactly five-and-a-half years ago Friday, ran a courageous race.

The winner was settled behind pace setter Fighter Wing and Rachel Alexandra running in second, challenged the Horse of the Year entering the lane shortly after that one had taken command from the weakening early leader, gained the lead near the furlong grounds and proved best the rest of the way.

“We had a picture-perfect trip,” said Flores. “The strategy was simply to get her to relax and John said she would get the job done. I got after her pretty hard coming home but she’s a real warrior.”

Zardana returned mutuels of $21, $3.20 and $2.60, toured the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:43.55 and increased her lifetime earnings to $428,421 with her eighth victory in 19 career starts.

Rachel Alexandra paid $2.10 and $2.10 as the runner-up, and Unforgotten, who finished third 11 1/2-lengths farther back behind Rachel Alexandra, returned $3.20 in the show spot.

“We wouldn’t have brought her here if we didn’t think she could get the job done,” said winning owner Arnold Zetcher. “She’s small but she doesn’t back down from a fight.”

As for Rachel Alexandra, her plans for what has been a highly anticipated showdown with the Shirreffs-trained Zenyatta, who won today’s Grade I Santa Margarita at Santa Anita Park, are now up in the air.

“If I thought she’d get beat I wouldn’t have run her today, so I’m definitely going to be cautious,” said two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Steve Asmussen. “I’m just disappointed she didn’t win today. It was a lack in fitness and it’s our job to have her there and I didn’t do it.”

A decision won’t be made on the Apple Blossom until Rachel Alexandra’s connections have had the opportunity to evaluate today’s race and how the filly came out of it.

“You take her back, you evaluate her, you see how her mood is, her diet, how she goes back to the racetrack, how she breezes,” Asmussen said. “No crystal ball could see that far ahead.”

Racing resumes Sunday at Fair Grounds with a nine-race program beginning at 12:40 p.m.

 FULL STAKES QUOTES

$200,000 New Orleans Ladies
Fillies & mares, 4-year-olds and up, 1 1/16 miles, inaugural running

Jockey David Flores (Zardana, winner): “We had a picture-perfect trip. The strategy was simply to get her to relax and John (Shirreffs, trainer) said she would get the job done. The pace was perfect for my filly. At the half-mile pole I asked her and she responded big. I got after her pretty hard coming home but she is a real warrior. This is a very strong filly, even though she’s a bit small.

“She bumped and I let Rachel run away … I got a nice hole. I didn’t want to let her do too much that first half. I just stayed behind her and saved as much as I could because we were going to need it to beat a big horse like that. I saved as much as I could for the end.”

Do you think this mare will go on to face her stablemate Zenyatta in the Apple Blossom? “I just did the job today. I don’t know. This filly needs to go back home and the owners and trainer will make a decision. I just feel like I was the best passenger today and that’s all I did.”

What were your impressions of Rachel Alexandra’s effort? “What can you say? She’s the Horse of the Year. She needed the race.”

NOTE: Winning trainer John Shirreffs was at Santa Anita Park to saddle Zenyatta, who won the Grade I Santa Margarita about a half-hour after the New Orleans Ladies was run.

Owner Arnold Zetcher (Zardana, winner): “We didn’t feel any pressure. We wouldn’t have brought her here if we didn’t think she could get the job done. She’s small but she doesn’t back down from a fight. There is nothing easy in this game. Rachel is fabulous; she will be back.”

Jockey Calvin Borel (Rachel Alexandra, second): “My little filly tried hard. She needed the race, that’s all. She needed the race more than anything. I wanted to let her run her race early but they wanted me to wait. I wanted to go on past the speed horse early (Fighter Wing). I’d have got by her anytime and my filly could have gone on but they wanted me to wait and not get into her until the sixteenth pole. You know how I know she’s a real racehorse? She was beat when that other horse went by her – but she didn’t quit. She dug in and fought right back and stayed with the winner the rest of the way. That’s the kind of racehorse she is. My little filly tried her heart out. She just needed the race.”

“She ran hard. She got tired and we needed a race. Now we got a race into her and look forward to the next one. As long as she comes back good I think we’ll be alright.

“She was a little rank but going that slow she’s going to be rank. I was just trying to save her for the end and have something to finish with. She just got a little tired. I guess I tried to sit on her a little bit longer than I wanted to and it kind of took a bit out of her. Other than that, though, she needed it. She was so tired when I pulled her up. We’re shooting for a goal, though, and win, lose or draw, that’s the goal we’re shooting for. After today you’ll see a different filly.”

Trainer Steve Asmussen (Rachel Alexandra, second): “She was strong early and got tired. Very disappointing that she lost. You hate to be in that position, but now that it’s over you know it’s not something we got away with.

“I’m just disappointed she didn’t win today. It was a lack in fitness and it’s our job to have her there and I didn’t do it.”

Was it enough to go on to the April 9 Grade I Apple Blossom? “Well, if I thought she’d get beat I wouldn’t have run her today, so I’m definitely going to be cautious.”

Did Calvin Borel give you any indication of how she felt?  “There’s no way to talk with everyone around. I’m sure we’ll go back and think about it and talk. It’s impossible to ask the right questions or talk with everybody around. We just want to do what’s right by the mare. You know Calvin and how strongly he feels about her and we’ll go from there.”

Did she move forward with that effort? “How tired she is off of that will be established in the coming days … She’s not where I thought she was and if I had thought she’d get beat she wouldn’t run. You take her back, you evaluate her, you see how her mood is, her diet, how she goes back to the racetrack, how she breezes. No crystal ball could see that far ahead.

It was a concern that she might not be able to relax early. “I thought she got to run in the first couple jumps a little more than I was hoping today, where we felt we were at.”

Jockey Miguel Mena (Unforgotten, third): “She ran good. She’s just a nice filly. She’s won a half-million and she shows up every time.”

Trainer Dallas Stewart (Unforgotten, third): “She ran good and we got a big piece of it. I’m very pleased.”

Trainer Greg Geier (Fighter Wing, fourth): “She ran good. We went fast but we had to go fast. I’m very pleased.”

Jockey Shane Sellers (Clear Sailing, fifth): “This definitely was not my filly’s race. We need to regroup and see what went wrong.”

Trainer Glenn Delahoussaye (Clear Sailing, fifth): “Shane said something didn’t feel right, so he didn’t want to abuse her. He let up on the bridle. I will find out more shortly and let you all know.”