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HOT SPRINGS, AR – Eight graded stakes winners – including five Grade 1 victors and the defending Kentucky Oaks (G1) champion – comprise the 14-strong field of fillies and mares running 1 1/16 miles in Saturday’s $600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) at Oaklawn Park.
In a group this deep, identifying the headliner is tough. Serengeti Empress represents the speed of the speed but has demonstrated an ability to simply run everyone off of their feet, as she did in the 2019 Kentucky Oaks and most recently in the local Azeri Stakes (G2). Jockey Joe Talamo retains the mount for trainer Tom Amoss.
“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.”
Saracosa will make her second start for new trainer Cipriano Contreras and rider Martin Garcia after she ran third in the Azeri. That was an improvement from her 2020 debut when fifth in the Houston Ladies Classic Stakes (G3) behind three horses who she will face Saturday. Though she has only won at this distance once in nine tries, she has hit the board eight of those instances, with the Houston Ladies Classic her lone dud.
One horse looking to rebound from the Azeri is Lady Apple, who never seemed to find her best footing over the sloppy surface. She had won three of her past four efforts leading up to the Azeri, including the Houston Ladies Classic. Her lone loss in that span came in the Alabama Stakes (G1), contested over a sloppy Saratoga main track. Trainer Steve Asmussen and jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr., will hope for a clean track on Saturday.
The lightly-raced Ce Ce has shipped in from her southern California base for trainer Michael McCarthy, and she brought the 2015 Triple Crown-winning jockey Victor Espinoza with her. She was fourth in the 2019 Acorn Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park, her only start away from California, but was away until this past February. Ce Ce defeated allowance foes before winning the Beholder Mile Stakes (G1), and according to McCarthy, she is doing better than ever.
“Her comeback race (in February), I thought she would run well,” he said. “She actually ran a little bit better than I thought she would, first time back. I gave her every excuse out of that race to tell me she did not want to run in the Beholder and she just kept on getting better and better with every work leading up to that race, so I had no hesitation of running her in that spot. … The way she did it, I thought was very impressive. Certainly, second race back off a layoff, to win a Grade 1, kind of tells you a lot about her.”
Here is the full field for Saturday’s Apple Blossom:
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