HOT SPRINGS, AR – Two talented thoroughbreds gave the performances of their careers at Oaklawn Park on Sunday when Midnight Bisou somehow just got up by a nose to defeat a too-tough-to-lose Escape Clause in the Apple Blossom Handicap (G1).
Carrying the high weight of 122 pounds as she broke from post 6 under Mike Smith, Midnight Bisou took back early while Wonder Gadot blitzed to a wide early lead and posted quick opening fractions of :23.07 and :47.08. Riding just off of the right hip of Elate, Midnight Bisou began advancing three-wide as the field made the far turn. Midway through, Wonder Gadot gave way along the inside, allowing Escape Clause to hold a slim lead by the top of the stretch.
Jockey Tyler Baze implored Escape Clause for everything she had, and for a moment, the 5-year-old Manitoba-bred mare appeared poised to spring the 8/1 upset. Midnight Bisou’s class took over in the final stages, though, and the 4/5 betting favorite surged forward to cross by a slim nose. The Steve Asmussen trainee completed the 1 1/16-mile event in a final time of 1:43.88 over the fast main track.
“Man, that was great,” Smith said. “Escape Clause ran huge, but you know, the great ones seem to pull it off, no matter what. I’m really happy with the way she ran today, but she had to run. Sometimes, you have to do that. I set back with Elate and waited to make my move. She ran huge, she had to fight for it, but she ran big. Escape Clause ran really well.”
Despite having lost the race in the last jumps, Escape Clause’s connections were overjoyed with her performance in her first race at the highest level.
“She’s really and truly probably one of the best horses I’ve ever been on in my life,” Baze said. “She gives it her all. She got beat a nose and I got slammed pretty hard going into the first turn. I knew I got beat at the wire. It was a head-and-head battle all the way down the lane. She gave me everything. We were a little unfortunate we didn’t get the bob.”
Despite running close to the pace and given every opportunity to contend for the win, Elate came up empty in the stretch and could only muster third. A wide 9 lengths back to fourth came Viva Forever, with Chocolate Martini and a spent Wonder Gadot completing the order of finish.
Midnight Bisou’s win was her third straight, all in 2019, including the Azeri Stakes (G2) last out and the Houston Ladies Classic Stakes (G3) to kick off 2019. The 4-year-old daughter of Midnight Lute improved her record to 14-8-3-3 with $2,405,000 earned.
“What an unbelievable filly,” Asmussen said. “We were talking about a special filly she is, how much confidence she has this year. She really seems to be enjoying her job. We’re just blessed to have her.”
Midnight Bisou returned $3.80 to win, $2.60 to place, and $2.10 to show. Escape Clause brought back $5.40 to place and $2.60 to show, while Elate paid $2.10 to show.