The Apple Blossom Handicap: A Clash of Champions in a Small Field
Saturday’s Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park may feature a small field, but it is filled with the kind of talent that gives it a Breeders’ Cup-like feel. This race is showcasing two Eclipse Award winners and four Grade 1 winners out of the five older fillies and mares competing in the 1 1/16-mile event.
A Breeders’ Cup Atmosphere
Trainer Rob Atras, who has trained Maracuja, one of the Grade 1 winners in the field, aptly described the race as having a “Breeders’ Cup kind of feel” to it. Maracuja surprised everyone when she upset Malathaat in last year’s American Oaks at Saratoga, proving her worth in elite competition. Despite her achievements, Maracuja is the second longest shot on the board at 6/1, reflecting the depth and competitiveness of the Apple Blossom field.
Meet the Contenders
Let’s take a closer look at some of the top contenders in the Apple Blossom Handicap:
1. Ce Ce – The Defending Champion
Ce Ce, the 2/1 second favorite, is seeking her second Apple Blossom Handicap victory in three years. She previously won the race in 2020 and has since established herself as a talented sprinter. In 2021, Ce Ce upset defending champion Gamine in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint and claimed the Eclipse Award for Champion Female Sprinter.
In the March 12 Grade 2 Azeri at Oaklawn, Ce Ce showcased her versatility by excelling in a two-turn race. Her stalking-then-pouncing tactics will come into play in the Apple Blossom, provided she can keep close to the frontrunner.
2. Letruska – The Frontrunner
Letruska, the 7/5 favorite, is no stranger to success. She won the Apple Blossom Handicap last year, kickstarting her campaign for the Eclipse Award for Older Dirt Female Horse. Letruska claimed four Grade 1 titles in 2021 and displayed exceptional speed on the front-end.
Despite a 10th-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff due to a frantic pace, Letruska’s front-end speed remains her signature strategy. Trainer Fausto Gutierrez intends to let her run freely, relying on jockey Jose Ortiz’s expertise to navigate the race’s rhythm and dictate the pace.
3. Clairiere – A Fierce Competitor
Clairiere, the third favorite at 5/2, has proven herself to be a worthy opponent in top-level races. A finalist for the Eclipse Champion 3-Year-Old award, Clairiere finished fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff by less than a length. In her 2022 debut, she dominated a Fair Grounds allowance field by 6 1/2 lengths, displaying her potential for greatness.
Trainer Steve Asmussen holds high regard for Clairiere, remarking that he wouldn’t trade places with anyone due to her tenacious closing ability. Her previous encounters with Maracuja and Malathaat in the American Oaks further demonstrate her competitive nature.
A Packed Field of Quality
The Apple Blossom Handicap brings together a small but formidable field. Each contender possesses a clear running style, making the race exciting for spectators. The talents of Maracuja, Clairiere, Ce Ce, Letruska, and Miss Imperial (12/1) showcase the depth and caliber of this elite event.
Trainer Mike McCarthy acknowledges the challenges presented by Letruska’s front-end speed but also emphasizes the quality of the other contenders. Despite the risks, McCarthy affirms that he wouldn’t switch places with anyone, confident in Letruska’s ability to handle the competition.
The Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap promises a thrilling clash of champions in a small yet highly competitive field. Ce Ce, Letruska, and Clairiere stand as the frontrunners, each bringing their unique strengths and achievements to the race. The outcome of this race could set the stage for future successes and solidify the reputation of the winner.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. Is the Apple Blossom Handicap a prestigious race?
Yes, the Apple Blossom Handicap is highly regarded in the world of horse racing. It attracts top-quality fillies and mares, showcasing their talent and providing an opportunity for them to earn significant accolades and prize money.
2. Which jockeys will be riding in the Apple Blossom Handicap?
The jockeys participating in the Apple Blossom Handicap include Ricardo Santa Jr., Jose Ortiz, Joel Rosario, Tiago Pereira, and Victor Espinoza. These skilled jockeys have extensive experience in handling high-stakes races and will bring their expertise to guide their respective mounts.
3. What is the significance of the Eclipse Awards in horse racing?
The Eclipse Awards are prestigious honors bestowed upon the best horses, jockeys, trainers, and owners in North American Thoroughbred racing. Winning an Eclipse Award signifies excellence and is a testament to the recipient’s exceptional achievements throughout the year.
4. How does the Apple Blossom Handicap contribute to a horse’s racing legacy?
The Apple Blossom Handicap is a race that attracts top-quality fillies and mares, providing an opportunity for them to prove their abilities against elite competition. Winning the Apple Blossom Handicap can significantly enhance a horse’s racing legacy, establishing them as a champion and increasing their value for breeding purposes.
5. Are there any historical records or notable moments associated with the Apple Blossom Handicap?
Over the years, the Apple Blossom Handicap has witnessed several memorable moments and record-breaking performances. Past champions such as Zenyatta, Havre de Grace, and Azeri have left their mark on this prestigious race, elevating its status and contributing to its rich history.