It’s Apple Blossom time! And time for a ladies spring showdown—Swiss Skydiver, Monomoy Girl

April 11, 2021

HOT SPRINGS, Ark.—Shortly after weights were released early Saturday afternoon, trainer Kenny McPeek said champion Swiss Skydiver “absolutely” would return to Oaklawn for a showdown with champion Monomoy Girl in the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) for older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles April 17.

“We’re coming with a beast,” McPeek said.

Post positions for the Apple Blossom and the $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G1) for older horses April 17 will be drawn Tuesday. Monomoy Girl was assigned top weight of 124 pounds for the Apple Blossom, 2 pounds more than Swiss Skydiver.

In her first start against older horses, notably Monomoy Girl, Swiss Skydiver finished seventh in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) Nov. 7 at Keeneland after stumbling at the start of the 1 1/8-mile race. The Distaff was a weight-for-age race, with Monomoy Girl carrying equal top weight of 124 pounds. Swiss Skydiver carried 121.

“Fair enough,” McPeek said, referring to the Apple Blossom weights. “After this race, we’ll have to give her weight then.”

Swiss Skydiver earned an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion 3-year-old filly of 2020 following a coast-to-coast campaign that saw the daughter of Daredevil capture 5 of 10 starts, including the $400,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn, $200,000 Santa Anita Oaks (G2) at Santa Anita, $200,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) at Gulfstream Park and the $500,000 Alabama Stakes (G1) at Saratoga. Swiss Skydiver also toppled males, including future Horse of the Year Authentic, in the Preakness – the third leg of the revamped 2020 Triple Crown – Oct. 3 at Pimlico under two-time Oaklawn riding champion Robby Albarado.

Swiss Skydiver launched her 2021 campaign with a sharp 2 ¾-length victory under Albarado in the $300,000 Beholder Mile (G1) March 13 at Santa Anita.

McPeek said Swiss Skydiver will be vanned from Churchill Downs, where she worked 5 furlongs in 1:00.40 Saturday morning over a fast track, “probably” arriving Tuesday night “as long as the weather’s clear when she can travel.”

“Robby Albarado’s coming down to get on her every day,” McPeek said. “My regular team will be with her.”

Two-time Eclipse Award winner Monomoy Girl completed major preparations for the Apple Blossom with a half-mile work in company just after the track opened Sunday morning at Oaklawn for trainer Brad Cox.

Monomoy Girl had been scheduled to breeze Saturday morning, but the work was postponed because of an off track. Working over a fast track under regular rider Florent Geroux, Monomoy Girl went in :47.60 and galloped out 5 furlongs in :59.60 and 6 furlongs in 1:12.80, according to clockers. Monomoy Girl (on the outside) worked with stablemate Owendale, a millionaire graded stakes-winning male who is scheduled to run in the Oaklawn Handicap. Monomoy Girl started about a length behind Owendale and finished about a length ahead.

“Just great, as usual,” Geroux said. “Just maintenance – nice and easy – and finished up very strong. Seemed like the track was a little quick this morning. She handled it perfectly. Very pleased with her and just can’t wait for next Saturday.”

Monomoy Girl will be making her first start since winning the $250,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3) Feb. 28 at Oaklawn in her 2021 debut. She was the county’s champion 3-year-old filly of 2018 and champion older dirt female last year. Overall, Monomoy Girl has won 14 of 16 lifetime starts.

Multiple graded stakes winner Letruska, also ticketed for the Apple Blossom, worked just before the first surface renovation break Sunday morning at Oaklawn for trainer Fausto Gutierrez.

The speed Letruska recorded a half-mile bullet (:47.20) and galloped 5 furlongs in :59.40, according to clockers, with a last quarter-mile in :23.

“I was looking for an easy work,” Gutierrez said. “When I checked the time, I think she went fast. She’s got a lot of speed. I think it’s OK and she’s in good form.”

Gutierrez said three-time reigning Eclipse Award-winning jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. would have the mount in the Apple Blossom. Letruska (118 pounds) was the only other probable listed by the Oaklawn racing department Sunday morning. Letruska (12 for 17 overall) finished second, beaten a head by Shedaresthedevil, in the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) March 13 at Oaklawn. Shedaresthedevil captured Oaklawn’s $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) and the $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks (G1) last year for Cox and co-owner Staton Flurry of Hot Springs. Swiss Skydiver was second in the Kentucky Oaks, the nation’s biggest race for 3-year-old fillies.

The Oaklawn racing department listed nine probables Sunday morning for the Oaklawn Handicap – Express Train (122 pounds), Fearless (119), Owendale (119), Enforceable (118), Silver State (118), Warrior’s Charge (118), Rated R Superstar (116), Silver Prospector (116) and Guest Suite (115).

Express Train finished second, beaten a half-length, in the $400,000 Santa Anita Handicap (G1) March 6 at Santa Anita for trainer John Shirreffs, who won the Apple Blossom twice (2008 and 2010) with future Hall of Famer Zenyatta.

Silver State has won four consecutive starts for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, including Oaklawn’s $150,000 Fifth Season Stakes Jan. 23 and $500,000 Essex Handicap March 13. 

Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates

Photos: Right: Monomoy Girl in a morning work at Keeneland. (Coady Photography); Left: Swiss Skydiver staves off Authentic to win the 2020 Preakness Stakes (Maryland Jockey Club).

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