Fox Hill Farm's Round Pond, winner of last year's Emirates Airline Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) and five of six career starts at Oaklawn Park, will return with her "home court advantage" as she heads a tough field of eight older mares in the 42nd running of the Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) April 7.
The $500,000, 1 1/16-mile Apple Blossom is part of Million Dollar Day, along with the $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II), and is a major part of Oaklawn Park's Racing Festival of the South.
Over the course of its lengthy history, the Apple Blossom has produced numerous champions, including Azeri, Banshee Breeze, Bayakoa, Lady's Secret, and Susan's Girl.
Round Pond, by Awesome Again , began her career at Oaklawn as a 3-year-old, losing her first start, but coming back to capture three in a row, including the 2005 Fantasy Stakes (gr. II) during the Racing Festival.
She won both of her 2006 starts at Oaklawn, including a memorable Azeri Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. III), in which she went virtually step-for-step with Happy Ticket before edging that mare in the final jump. Later in the year, that same twosome ran one-two in the Distaff.
For her career, Round Pond has won seven of 12 starts with two seconds and two thirds. In her only start this year, however, she finished off the board for the first time when she was fourth in Gulfstream Park's Rampart Handicap (gr. II). The talented filly, who is climbing toward the $2 million mark in earnings, would take a big step toward an Eclipse Award if she finds victory in the Apple Blossom for owner Rick Porter and trainer Michael Matz. Edgar Prado has the mount on Round Pond, who carries highweight of 120 pounds.
Sure to show some competition to Round Pond are the one-two finishers in the 2006 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), Lemons Forever and Ermine. Both raced successfully at Oaklawn last year prior to their big race at Churchill Downs.
Lemons Forever won a one-mile allowance contest at Oaklawn in her only local start for trainer Dallas Stewart, while the Ronny Werner-trained Ermine captured Oaklawn's Honeybee Stakes just prior to finishing second in the Oaks. Later in the year, she took the Falls City Handicap (gr. II) at Churchill, and started this year with second-place finishes in both the Santa Maria and Santa Margarita Handicaps (both gr. I) at Santa Anita.
India, who comes into the race off a victory in the March 3 Azeri Breeders' Cup (gr. III), will represent the strong stakes barn of trainer Todd Pletcher, who won the 2006 Apple Blossom with Spun Sugar. India has won three in a row and is undefeated in races around two turns.
Take D' Tour and Baghdaria are two other highly capable females who seem up for the Apple Blossom challenge. A daughter of Tour d'Or, Take D' Tour recorded four stakes victories last year, three of them graded, including the Ogden Phipps (gr. I) at Belmont Park. The 6-year-old mare, who has never raced at Oaklawn, will come into the Apple Blossom of a runner-up effort in the Jan. 27 Sunshine Millions Distaff Stakes at Santa Anita Park.
Baghdaria, who posted grade III wins in the Iowa Oaks, Silverbulletday Stakes, and Indiana Breeders' Cup Oaks last year, will make her second start of 2007 in the Apple Blossom. She last won the March 2 Sweetheart Stakes at Delta Downs.
Rounding out the field are other black-type winners and grade I-placed mares River Savage and Rahy's Appeal.
Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I), $500,000, Oaklawn Park, April 7, fillies and mares, 4-year-olds and up, 1 1/16 miles, approx. post 4:42 p.m. EDT
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Lemons Forever, 115, Mark Guidry
2. Rahy's Appeal, 114, Alex Solis
3. India, 116, Joe Bravo
4. Ermine, 116, Eddie Castro
5. Take D' Tour, 118, Eibar Coa
6. River Savage, 112, Omar Berrio
7. Round Pond, 120, Edgar Prado
8. Baghdaria, 114, Eusebio Razo