As expected, 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra and two-time champion Zenyatta were chief among the 45 fillies and mares nominated to the $5 million Apple Blossom Invitational (gr. I) at Oaklawn Park April 9. Nominations closed March 10.
Should the two superstars enter the 1 1/8-mile event, Oaklawn Park will extend invitations to eight other nominees to face them in what would be the richest race ever run exclusively for fillies and mares.
The connections of Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta have both expressed their desire to see the two horses meet in the Apple Blossom and each has trained this winter with the trip to Arkansas in mind. Rachel Alexandra, owned by Jess Jackson's Stonestreet Stable and Harold McCormick, will race in the $200,000 New Orleans Ladies Stakes at Fair Grounds March 13. It is her first start since capping a perfect eight for eight season in the Woodward (gr. I) against older males at Saratoga Sept. 5.
The undefeated Zenyatta, racing for Jerry and Ann Moss, will also prep March 13 in the $250,000 Santa Margarita Invitational (gr. I) at Santa Anita in her first race since beating males in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) on Nov. 7.
While Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta are the most heralded horses bringing winning streaks into the Apple Blossom, several others on the list are riding streaks of their own. Sweet Repent has won her last five starts, including the $300,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff Jan. 30 at Gulfstream Park. Life At Ten has gradually emerged this winter in New York, winning three straight, including the Rare Treat Stakes at Aqueduct by more than five lengths Feb. 20. International flavor comes from Bambera, a champion from Venezuela and winner of 16 of her last 18 starts. Owned by Jose Gregorio Castro's Paula C. Stud, Bambera has been training in South Florida this winter.
Other prominent fillies and mares on the nomination list include Careless Jewel, who in any other year could have been champion 3-year-old filly in 2009 if not for Rachel Alexandra; Stardom Bound, the champion 2-year-old filly of 2008; and Striking Dancer, recent winner of the La Canada (gr. II). Freedom Star made her bid for an invitation with her impressive win in the local prep, the Azeri Stakes (gr. III) March 6.
Invitations to the Apple Blossom Invitational will be extended on March 24. Entries for the race will be taken April 6.