Fox Hill Farms’ Havre de Grace served notice that she belongs near the top of her division when she romped in last month’s Azeri Stakes (gr. III) at Oaklawn. The 4-year-old Saint Liam filly will try to solidify that status April 15 when she goes for her first grade I win against a short field in the $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) in Hot Springs, Ark.
A field of just five was entered for the 1 1/16-mile Apple Blossom, which will go to post at 6:07 p.m. CDT the evening of April 15. Her top rivals include a pair of grade I California invaders, Switch and Miss Match.
Havre de Grace defeated champion Blind Luck for the second time in the March 19 Azeri, as she took over after a half-mile and drew clear for a 3 1/4-length victory under Ramon Dominguez, who was riding for the first time and will be back aboard for the Apple Blossom when they break from post 3. Her impressive season debut was the first start for the bay filly under the direction of trainer Larry Jones.
Havre de Grace has worked twice since that win, including a bullet five-furlong move in :57 4/5 on April 10 at Oaklawn.
Bred in Kentucky by Nancy S. Dillman, Havre de Grace is out of the Carson City mare Easter Bunnette. She is 4-3-2 from nine career starts, including a win in the grade II Fitz Dixon Cotillion last fall at Philadelphia Park before finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (gr. I).
C R K Stable’s Switch fell short of her third consecutive grade I win in heartbreaking fashion in the March 12 Santa Margarita Stakes when being caught at the wire by longshot Miss Match. Switch won the La Brea (gr. I) in December and the Santa Monica (gr. I) in her 4-year-old debut on Jan. 30—both seven-furlong sprints at Santa Anita. She stretched out well in the Santa Margarita despite falling just shy as the odds-on choice.
Joel Rosario will ride for John Sadler. Switch seeks the sixth win of her career, which would put her over $1 million in earnings.
Matthew Cloros’ Miss Match was 45-1 when she scored the Santa Margarita for her first stakes win in North America. The 6-year-old mare was a group I winner in her native Argentina before beginning her United Stakes career in 2009. Garrett Gomez will keep the mount for Neil Drysdale.
Another South American-bred mare hoping for an upset will be Belle Watling, who makes just her third start in the states. The Chilean-bred 5-year-old was fourth in The Very One (gr. IIIT) in February on turf and third in a March 11 optional claimer on the main track—both at Gulfstream Park. The five-time group I winner and 2010 Chilean Horse of the Year is trained by Patrick Biancone.
Completing the field is Absinthe Minded, who set the pace in the Azeri only to finish third by five lengths.
$500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I, Race 10, 6:07 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 4 & Up, 1 1/16 Miles (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1. Absinthe Minded (KY), T J Thompson, 112, D W Lukas
2. Miss Match (ARG), G K Gomez, 116, N D Drysdale
3. Havre de Grace (KY), R A Dominguez, 119, J L Jones
4. Belle Watling (CHI), H Berrios, 114, P L Biancone
5. Switch (KY), J Rosario, 119, J W Sadler