It’s Apple Blossom Time!

April 13, 2024

Adare Manor winning the Zenyatta. (Ernie Belmonte/Past The Wire)

Compiled by Robert Yates

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Two weeks after winning the richest race in Oaklawn history, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert goes for its second richest in Saturday’s $1.25 million G1-Apple Blossom Handicap for older fillies and mares. 

The 8 ½-furlong Apple Blossom anchors a 12-race card that begins at 12:10 p.m., CDT. Probable post time for the Apple Blossom, the 11th race, is 5:46 p.m. The card also features defending champion Skelly in the $500,000 G3-Count Fleet Sprint Handicap for older horses at six furlongs. Probable post time for the Count Fleet, race 8, is 3:46 p.m. First post is 12:10 p.m.

The Apple Blossom, among the country’s most prestigious two-turn dirt races for older females, has a record purse in 2024 after being bumped to $1 million in 2021. The Southern California-based Baffert won the 2012 Apple Blossom with his only starter to date in the race, Plum Pretty.

Baffert’s success at Oaklawn has been well documented, specifically, in its four-race Kentucky Derby points series. Baffert has won a staggering 43 percent of his starts overall (39 of 91), with 20 of those victories coming in Kentucky Derby qualifying races. The record-extending 20th came in the $1.5 million G1-Arkansas Derby March 30 with Muth. The Arkansas Derby was the richest race in Oaklawn history. It was worth $1.25 million in 2022 and 2023.

Baffert returns to Hot Springs with the Apple Blossom program favorite in millionaire Grade 1 winner Adare Manor, a 5-year-old daughter of champion Uncle Mo who is seeking her first career victory outside California. 

Owned by Michael Lund Petersen, Adare Manor boasts a 7-5-0 record from 15 lifetime starts and earnings of $1,061,600. She won five consecutive races, including the $400,000 G1-Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at 1 1/16 miles Aug. 5 at Del Mar, before finishing seventh, beaten three lengths, in the $2 million G1-Breeders’ Cup Distaff at 1 1/8 miles Nov. 4 at Santa Anita.

In her only start this year, Adare Manor finished second, beaten three-quarters of a length, in the $300,000 G1-Beholder Mile March 9 at Santa Anita.

“She came out of her race well,” Baffert said. “She was freshened up and had a nice start (Beholder Mile). Unfortunately, she got beat. We thought the timing’s perfect for the Apple Blossom, so we’re looking forward to it.”

Wet Paint fought Sacred Wish for the win in the Coaching Club American Oaks.(Adam Coglianese)

Wet Paint will be making her first start since finishing eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff for trainer Brad Cox. She became just the second filly to sweep Oaklawn’s three-race Kentucky Oaks points series last year, winning the $200,000 Martha Washington Stakes, $300,000 G3-Honeybee Stakes and $600,000 G3-Fantasy Stakes Wet Paint finished fourth as the favorite in the Kentucky Oaks and recorded her biggest career victory to date in the $500,000 G1-Coaching Club American Oaks for 3-year-old fillies July 22 at Saratoga.

Oaklawn-based Taxed finished sixth in last year’s CCA Oaks for trainer Randy Morse. She also finished second to Wet Paint in the Martha Washington and Fantasy before winning the $300,000 G2-Black-Eyed Susan Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/8 miles May 19 at Pimlico.

In her 4-year-old debut, Taxed was a sharp allowance winner sprinting March 16 at Oaklawn. After running six furlongs in 1:10.53, track stewards allowed Taxed to work an additional eighth of a mile past the finish line and she covered 7 furlongs in 1:23.53.

“She’s been training great all winter,” Morse said. “This was kind of our goal to begin with. You only get so many Grade 1s to run in. So, we’re here, we don’t have to travel. Just made sense.”

The Apple Blossom also features Grade 3 winners Honor D Lady, Bellamore and Shotgun Hottie, Oaklawn stakes winner Misty Veil, millionaire Louisiana-bred multiple stakes winner Free Like a Girl and multiple stakes winner Flying Connection.

The Apple Blossom Field

The Count Fleet drew a field of eight, notably the freakishly fast Skelly, who is seeking to give Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen his record-extending sixth Count Fleet victory. 

The 2023 Count Fleet marked the third consecutive victory for Skelly, who stretched the winning streak to seven in the $150,000 King Cotton Stakes for older sprinters Feb. 3 at Oaklawn. The streak ended in his last start, a runner-up finish in the $1.5 million G3-Riyadh Dirt Sprint over 1,200 meters Feb. 24 in Saudi Arabia.

Skelly scoring the King Cotton Stakes Feb. 2 (Kurtis Coady)

A millionaire, Skelly returned to the work tab March 29 at Oaklawn, covering a half-mile in :50.20. The 4-year-old Practical Joke gelding completed major preparations for the Count Fleet by working a half-mile in :49.20 April 6.

“We’ll know Saturday,” Asmussen said, when asked about the travel turnaround. “He trains very nicely. I thought he represented himself very well in Saudi and very happy with how he’s doing since he came back.”

Skelly, the even-money program favorite, is scheduled to break from post 4 under regular rider Ricardo Santana Jr. and carry top weight of 125 pounds, 2 pounds more than late-running millionaire Tejano Twist.

Tejano Twist (3-1) finished third in last year’s Count Fleet and exits a second-place finish, beaten a nose by fellow Count Fleet entrant Jaxon Traveler, in the $250,000 G3-Whitmore Stakes March 16 at Oaklawn.

“Doesn’t really matter the pace scenario,” said Chris Hartman, who trains Tejano Twist. “Skelly’s going to make the pace. He’s just going to have to try to run him down. Skelly’s going to be in front and we’re going to be running from the back.”

In addition to Skelly and Jaxon Traveler, Asmussen entered Oaklawn stakes winner Ryvit.

@jonathanstettin Your the best Excellent Work

Tony N @immortals952 View testimonials



Leave a Comment