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Clash of 'supergirls' in doubt as Rachel suffers shock defeat.

Byline: Nicholas Godfrey

SPECTACULAR Breeders' Cup Classic winner Zenyatta enhanced her already exalted reputation with another remarkable victory to take her unbeaten sequence to 15 on her seasonal debut in California on Saturday.

But arch-rival Rachel Alexandra, voted US Horse of the Year for 2009 ahead of Zenyatta, was sensationally beaten at odds of 1-20 at Fair Grounds in New Orleans - by Zardana, one of Zenyatta's stablemates at trainer John Shirreffs' barn.

The defeat jeopardises the muchanticipated $5 million showdown between the pair in the Apple Blossom Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas on April 9. Barely 20 minutes after Rachel Alexandra was beaten in the New Orleans Ladies, the remarkable Zenyatta, ridden by Mike Smith, did what she has always done at Santa Anita when scoring win No.15 with a typical last-to-first victory in the Santa Margarita Invitational.

The six-year-old was conceding 12lb and more to a talented bunch of Graded-stakes calibre fillies in the $250,000 event.

Nevertheless, this outstanding racehorse was still sent off 1-5 to score another Grade 1 victory on her first outing since her 'unretirement'.

As usual, Smith rode the giant mare with the utmost confidence, allowing her to lope along right at the back of the nine-runner field, well adrift of front-runner Dance To My Tune.

Zenyatta was still fully eight lengths adrift two furlongs out as they left the far turn, where Smith took the dangerous option of sending her to the inner to deliver her challenge.

For a few strides it looked as if she might struggle to find a gap, but Zenyatta is nimble as well as talented. She weaved between traffic before picking up the leader and flying past her rivals to score cosily by a length and a quarter, covering 1m1f on the Pro-Ride in 1min 48.20sec.

Smith, who had virtually gone looking for trouble, was exultant. "I don't know what to say, I'm like a fan," he said.

"She's a bit of a bully. This was a great, great race for her and it wasn't taxing at all."

Shirreffs said Zenyatta would be running on the dirt at Oaklawn - even if Rachel Alexandra does not show up.

"Zenyatta will run in the Apple Blossom regardless," he said. "She came back so we could have some fun with her and other fans could see her. That was the whole thing. She'll go back to Hollywood and get ready for Oaklawn."

Asked if she was better now than she was before, he replied: "That's hard to say. How can you be better than perfect?" Looking at the race, he added: "I just have a lot of faith in Mike. I know once he gets her in the clear, he has a good chance. She's cut in between horses and everything, but when you have a big X on your back, a lot of places don't open up that normally would."

Rachel Alexandra's trainer Steve Asmussen had warned that she might need her first run of the year after a wet winter at the historic Fair Grounds in New Orleans, and his worries seemed justified as she was outrun in the stretch by 91/2-1 chance Zardana, who had the benefit of a recent outing.

Rachel Alexandra, sent off at a dividend of only five cents on the dollar in the win pool, broke well and sat a couple of paths wide, a length behind pacemaking outsider Fighter Wing.

She cruised up to take the lead on the far turn but David Flores immediately asked Grade 2 winner Zardana to close up from third and she may just have got her nose in front soon after entering the stretch.

Rachel Alexandra fought back on the inner and the pair duelled until Zardana asserted to score by three-quarters of a length.

The result called into question the prospect of a clash between the 'supergirls' at Oaklawn next month.

Asmussen said: "Well, if I thought she'd get beat I wouldn't have run her today, so I'm definitely going to be cautious. We just want to do what's right by the mare.

"She was strong early and she got tired," added the trainer. "It was a lack of fitness and it's our job to have her there and I didn't do it. How tired she is off that will be established in the coming days.

"She's not where I thought she was, and if I'd thought she would get beat she wouldn't have run." Read more at International news on USA Lookin At Lucky stakes Kentucky Derby claim Dubai Lemaire takes Presvis ride in Dubai Duty Free
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Mar 15, 2010
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