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The Apple Blossom Handicap (Grade 1) Preview

1. Close Hatches

Close Hatches

Race Record: (9) 6-2-0

Earnings: $1,487,300

Jockey: Joel Rosario

Trainer: Bill Mott

Graded Stakes Victories: 4

The Verdict: Have to love the way Mott came to Oaklawn Park last time for the Azeri to test the waters before committing to this race. He was rewared for the decision as Close Hatches was a decisive winner of the Azeri, and now you have to love her chances in this one. The field has come up a bit short, and there is absolutely no doubting who the class of this race is. If she shows up with here “A” game…they are all running for second.

2. Rose to Gold

Rose to GoldRace Record: (12) 6-1-0

Earnings: $963,509

Jockey: Calvin Borel

Trainer: Sal Santoro

Graded Stakes Victories: 3

The Verdict: Against ungraded or Grade 3 company Rose to Gold has been very impressive, but she is yet to tackle tougher competition with much luck. Her race two back in the Houston Ladies Classic had me thinking she had taken a big leap forward, but she went backwards next time out finishing seventh in the Sabin Stakes at Gulfstream. She does hold two victories at Oaklawn Park, but I don’t look for her to make it three.

3. Stanwyck

Stanwyck_NYRARace Record: (13) 3-2-5

Earnings: $304,250

Jockey: Gary Stevens

Trainer: John Shirreffs

Graded Stakes Victories: 1

The Verdict:Trainer John Shirreffs thrilled the masses at Oaklawn twice by bringing the great Zenyatta to the Apple Blossom, but make no mistake…this is not Zenyatta. Stanwyck has just one graded stakes win to her credit, however she has run decent in her last couple of races against graded company; finishing third in both the Santa Maria and Santa Margarita Stakes. Maybe she is a late developing horse, but she won’t be good enough here.

4. On Fire Baby

On Fire Baby Oaklawn 2012Race Record: (13) 5-1-1

Earnings: $761,974

Jockey: Joe Johnson

Trainer: Gary “Red Dog” Hartlage

Graded Stakes Victories: 4

The Verdict:The defending Apple Blossom champion is back again this year, and should be ready to fire a big race! Last time out Close Hatches soundly defeated On Fire Baby in the Azeri Stakes, but it was clear On Fire Baby needed that race. Now she should be fit and ready to roll, and with the home track on her side I give her a small chance to pull off the upset. She’s clearly the logical alternative if you don’t want to play Close Hatches at low odds

5. Let Faith Arise

LetFaithAriseSantaMargarita2014BEN298Race Record: (10) 5-2-1

Earnings: $380,284

Jockey: Corey Nakatani

Trainer: Jerry Hollendorfer

Graded Stakes Victories: 1

The Verdict:She’s coming into this race off a Grade 1 victory, but you have to question the toughness of the field she faced last time out. This one has always ran solid races, but not until recently has she moved up to Graded Stakes company at bigger tracks. Perhaps another that is a late bloomer, but I just can’t see her matching up well with a horse like Close Hatches.

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