While the Arkansas Derby will always get the most attention at Oaklawn, the Apple Blossom Handicap actually has been just as productive over the years. It serves as the main objective for older fillies and mares at Oaklawn, and also brings in quite the competition from around the country. Horse of the Year winners Zenyatta and Havre De Grace have won this race in recent years, and last year it was local horse Untapable that put her name next to those greats as she avenged her loss earlier in the meet in the Azeri Stakes. The Apple Blossom is one of only two Grade 1 races that Oaklawn has, and will be ran on Friday April 15th, which as always is the day before the Arkansas Derby.
The headliner of this year’s quest for the Apple Blossom is obvious: the previously mentioned defending champion Untapable. The reigning Three Year Old Filly of the Year started off her much anticipated 2015 campaign in the Azeri Stakes, but was upset by Gold Medal Dancer in a classic stretch dual. Four weeks later Untapable got her revenge taking home the Apple Blossom, and seemingly returning to her top form. However, the rest of her 2015 campaign was probably not what her connections had in mind, as she struggled in some of the bigger stakes races within the division and did not win another race. It was highly speculative if Untapable would return for a 2016 campaign, but her connections immediately said that they would indeed run the classy mare this year. Currently she is galloping in preparation for the season with no target race in mind. One would think the Apple Blossom will be the goal if the horse is showing signs of being ready to roll.
The second and fourth place finishers from last years Apple Blossom are also back this year. Runner up finisher Diva’s Diamond could point for the Oaklawn series once again and is currently working out at Delta Downs. Fourth place finisher Pearl Turn is pointing for the Pippin and Bayakoa Stakes early on in the meet before going to breeding shed where she has a date with Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. One other older mare that is returning to Oaklawn this year is Kiss Moon, who is said to be targeting the Azeri Stakes in March. Two years ago Kiss Moon competed in the Oaklawn three year old series where she hit the board in both the Honeybee and Fantasy Stakes.
A big factor in this division will be the newly turned four-year olds that will now be asked to step up in class and compete against the older mares. Last year Oaklawn had solid production from their three year filly stakes series, as Fantasy Stakes winner Include Betty went on to become a Grade 1 winner in the Mother Goose at Belmont, and also won the Remington Park Oaks. She recently recorded her first workout of 2016 at Tampa Bay Downs, and certainly could be targeting races like the Azeri Stakes or Apple Blossom. Another nice three year old filly that ran at Oaklawn was Honeybee Stakes winner Sarah Sis who won the Grade 3 Iowa Oaks and Grade 2 Raven Run at Keeneland. She’s had two workouts at Oaklawn so far and could be the strongest of the local horses in the division. Yet one MORE newly turning four year old is Indiana Oaks winner High Dollar Woman, who is said to be targeting the Azeri Stakes as her 2016 launching point.
Of course other than the last couple of years the shippers have dominated the Apple Blossom. It’s always hard to speculate this early about who might show up for the Racing Festival of the South, but you can bet that there will be plenty of big time horses pointing towards those races. Oaklawn is always hopeful to attract top horses such as Beholder, I’m A Chatterbox, or Stellar Wind, and it’s never out of the question considering the success California and Fair Grounds shippers usually have here. Who ends up coming is an unknown factor, but what is not unknown to anyone is how strong and entertaining this division has been over the last few years. With the class and potential of this year’s group I see that tradition carrying on once again.