Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen win the Apple Blossom winner’s circle. (Coady Photography)
Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates
HOT SPRINGS, Ark.—Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen took a bite out of the apple Saturday at Oaklawn. A record-setting bite.
Asmussen won four races on the 12-race card, including the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) with Clairiere, who used an electrifying late kick under Joel Rosario to edge favored Secret Oath by a neck in the 1 1/16-mile event for older fillies and mares.
Clairiere ($5) represented a record-tying third Apple Blossom victory for Asmussen, following Untapable in 2015 and Midnight Bisou in 2019, and carried added significance because of her connections, resume and pedigree.
“Absolutely,” Asmussen said approximately 10 minutes after the race. “Being a Curlin out of Cavorting that’s won a couple of Grade 1s, in training as a 5-year-old, I mean that is the Stonestreet sportsmanship ultimate – keeping something like her racing. And that’s why when you’re allowed to do something like that, you feel the responsibility of it and how much it means. That’s what she’s back in training for, a race just like that.”
Clairiere is a homebred for Stonestreet Stables (Barbara Banke), among Asmussen’s most treasured clients, and by two-time Horse of the Year Curlin. Stonestreet campaigned Curlin – Horse of the Year in 2007 and 2008 – with Asmussen. Cavorting is a millionaire multiple Grade 1 winner.
After finishing second in last year’s Apple Blossom, Clairiere won the $500,000 Ogden Phipps Stakes (G1) last June at Belmont Park in her next start and was poised for an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion older dirt female when she entered the starting gate for the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) Nov. 5 at Keeneland. Clairiere was denied the hardware after finishing third, beaten two noses, in the 1 1/8-mile race.
Asked if he would be discussing Clairiere – the racehorse, not the broodmare – 5 ½ months following a Breeders’ Cup victory, Asmussen said, “I don’t know.”
“It would have made her champion,” Asmussen said. “Who knows? But I’ve known them (Stonestreet) to put a Horse of the Year (Curlin) back in training. Lucky me.”
Clairiere opened her 5-year-old campaign with a runner-up finish, beaten 2 ¾ lengths by Secret Oath, in the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) for older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles March 11 at Oaklawn.
In the rematch, Clairiere trailed Secret Oath by four lengths in midstretch before collaring the 2022 Kentucky Oaks winner in the shadow of the wire. The winning time over a fast track was 1:43.36.
“It (Azeri) was the first race of the year,” Asmussen said. “Of course, you wanted to win. I never want her to lose. When you have her, you don’t think she’s going to lose. She gives you that sort of confidence. We watched the race run. Kudos to Secret Oath. She’s a great mare.”
The Apple Blossom, Clairiere’s seventh victory from 18 lifetime starts, increased her earnings to $2,831,392. Asmussen said Clairiere will join his string at Churchill Downs, with next-race plans pending. The $500,000 Ogden Phipps (G1) for older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles is June 10 at Belmont Park.
“We have the beautiful luxury of having Pauline’s Pearl for Stonestreet, also,” Asmussen said. “I think Clairiere held up her end of the bargain today and we’ll go from there.”
A millionaire Grade 1 winner, Pauline’s Pearl won the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies in 2021 at Oaklawn and finished second in last year’s Azeri.
Asmussen also won Saturday’s fourth race with Kingdom ($10.20), fifth race with St. Andrews ($16.40) and the ninth race, the $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) for older horses at 6 furlongs, with Skelly ($14).
The four-bagger pushed Asmussen’s career Oaklawn victory total to 864. Asmussen entered Sunday, Day 59 of the scheduled 68-day meeting, needing only four victories to surpass the late Bob Holthus (867) as the all-time winningest trainer in Oaklawn history. Asmussen became the first trainer in Oaklawn history to reach $50 million in career purse earnings Saturday. Skelly represented Asmussen’s record-extending fifth Count Fleet victory and the 100th stakes victory in his Oaklawn career, which is also a record. Asmussen, who has collected a record 12 Oaklawn training titles, waited only a little more than an hour for No. 101 with Clairiere.
“She’s a tremendous mare,” Asmussen said.