‘Like A Breeders’ Cup In April’: Saturday’s Grade 1 Apple Blossom Features Full Field Of 14

Serengeti Empress had to beat 13 rivals to win the country’s biggest race for 3-year-old fillies last year. She will have to beat the same number to win one of the country’s biggest two-turn races for older fillies and mares Saturday at Oaklawn Park.

Joel Politi’s Serengeti Empress is among 14 horses entered in the star-studded $600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1), a 1 1/16-mile event that headlines a 11-race card. Probable post time for the Apple Blossom, which goes as race 10, is 5:16 p.m. (Central). Racing begins Saturday at 12:35 p.m.

Trained by Tom Amoss, Serengeti Empress was a wire-to-wire winner of the $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks (G1) – the country’s biggest prize for 3-year-old fillies – last May at Churchill Downs. She launched her 4-year-old campaign with a scintillating 6 ¼-length wire-to-wire victory in the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) March 14, the final major local steppingstone to the Apple Blossom. In the 1 1/16-mile Azeri, Serengeti Empress controlled the race from the start under Joe Talamo. But she only faced six challengers that day. Saturday’s race features four other Grade 1 winners, and Serengeti Empress drew a far outside post (11), not an ideal spot, Amoss said, for her free-running style.

“Look, I’m just going to be frank about it,” Amoss said. “It reads like a Breeders’ Cup in April. Everybody’s come. We have a lot of obstacles. It starts with the post position. I don’t like being that far outside. But then, it’s going to be the rush to get position going into the first turn. Position for us is going to the front. We’re not looking to lay second or third from that outside post. Our winning races are when she makes the lead, so we’re going. I guess the question is: How much energy are we going to have to use to get to the front? On paper, it looks like quite a bit.”

Serengeti Empress is the 4-1 second choice in the program for Amoss, who won the Apple Blossom and Azeri (then known as the Oaklawn Breeders’ Cup Stakes) in 2000 with Heritage of Gold. Saturday’s assignment, Amoss said, is tough because there are other speed horses in the race, including 3-1 program favorite Come Dancing.

“There are two or three horses that are coming off races at shorter distances, where they have been close to attending the pace in what is a sprint format,” Amoss said. “So, in route formats, they’re natural speed. The pace is going to be fast. If you’re a handicapper for this race, you’re like, ‘There’s a lot of speed in here, I’m looking for a closer.’ ”

Come Dancing will be making her first start and two-turn debut for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas after previously being based with New York-based trainer Carlos Martin.

Come Dancing, a five-time stakes winner, hasn’t started since finishing sixth in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) – her only career race outside New York – Nov. 2 at Santa Anita. The 6-year-old daughter of Malibu Moon had been poised for an Eclipse Award as champion female sprinter after winning the $500,00 Ballerina Stakes (G1) Aug. 24 at Saratoga and the $300,000 Gallant Bloom Handicap (G2) Sept. 22 at Belmont Park. Overall, Come Dancing has won 8 of 14 career starts and earned $1,064,950.

Lukas said the Apple Blossom was on Come Dancing’s “radar,” but Covid-19, complicated matters for Martin, grandson of the late Hall of Fame trainer, Frank “Pancho” Martin, and breeder/owner Marc Holliday (Blue Devil Racing Stable).

Come Dancing was sent to Lukas about a month ago and has recorded three local breezes leading up to the Apple Blossom.

“It’s not too much of a short time,” Lukas said. “We’ve had her a month. We’ve been able to do pretty much everything we wanted to do. In watching her train and everything, I think the two turns is well within her wheelhouse.”

Ce Ce (7-2) is 2 for 2 this year, including a sparkling 3 ¼-length score in the $400,000 Beholder Mile (G1) March 14 at Santa Anita under her regular rider, Hall of Famer Victor Espinoza. The 4-year-old daughter of Elusive Quality is bred and owned by Bo Hirsch, who won the 2009 Arkansas Derby with her half-brother, Papa Clem. Ce Ce is scheduled to break from post 14 Saturday.

“Obviously, Serengeti Empress, on her day, when she gets the lead, is very good,” trainer Michael McCarthy said. “I’ll leave that up to Victor, exactly what’s going to happen once the gates open, but my preference would be to sit a nice stalking trip, obviously.”

Also entered are Grade 1 winners Ollie’s Candy and Street Band and Grade 2 winner Point of Honor, among the nation’s top 3-year-old fillies last year.

“She’s training very well,” said George Weaver, who trains Point of Honor. “It’s a tough race, but I don’t think she’s going to disappoint us.”

Go Google Yourself won the $200,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3) Feb. 17, a major local Apple Blossom prep.

The Apple Blossom field from the rail out: Ollie’s Candy, Joel Rosario to ride, 120 pounds, 12-1 on the morning line; Coldwater, Walter De La Cruz, 112, 50-1; Awe Emma, Corey Lanerie, 115, 20-1; Come Dancing, Florent Geroux, 120, 3-1; Point of Honor, Drayden Van Dyke, 119, 10-1; Street Band, Sophie Doyle, 119, 15-1; Queen Nekia, David Cohen, 115, 20-1; Saracosa, Martin Garcia, 114, 30-1; Horologist, Tyler Baze, 116, 15-1; Cookie Dough, Abel Cedillo, 118, 10-1; Serengeti Empress, Joe Talamo, 122, 4-1; Go Google Yourself, Brian Hernandez Jr., 120; Lady Apple, Ricardo Santana Jr., 119, 15-1; and Ce Ce, Victor Espinoza, 121, 7-2.

The post ‘Like A Breeders’ Cup In April’: Saturday’s Grade 1 Apple Blossom Features Full Field Of 14 appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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