Reigning Horse of the Year Havre de Grace tops the list of horses nominated to the stakes extravaganza that, along with the Arkansas Derby (gr. I), comprise the “Racing Festival of the South” at Oaklawn Park April 11-14.
Rick Porter’s champion mare trained by Larry Jones has been nominated to both the $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) for fillies and mares April 13 and the $400,000 Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II) April 14. By winning the Apple Blossom last year, Havre de Grace joined Zenyatta and Azeri in winning the race during her championship campaign. The Apple Blossom drew nine other nominations, including grade I winners Awesome Maria, It’s Tricky, and Plum Pretty.
If her connections opt for the Oaklawn Handicap, Havre de Grace would be facing males for the third time in her career. The Oaklawn Handicap drew 24 nominations, led by two-time Oaklawn stakes winner this meet Alternation, defending champion Win Willy, and Donn Handicap (gr. I) winner Hymn Book. All are all expected to start. Also pointing to the race is Nehro, runner-up in the 2011 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Arkansas Derby (gr. I).
The Oaklawn Handicap and the $250,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (gr. III), which attracted 23 nominations including 2011 champion sprinter Amazombie, were moved in 2012 and are now supporting features with the $100,000 Northern Spur Stakes on the April 14 Arkansas Derby card.
The $300,000 Fantasy Stakes (gr. II), which has produced Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) winners and champions Rachel Alexandra and Blind Luck in recent years, kicks off the festival April 11. The 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies closed with 20 nominations topped by Honeybee Stakes (gr. III) winner On Fire Baby, who is also being considered for the Arkansas Derby.
The other stakes that make up the “Racing Festival of the South” are the $100,000 Redbud and $75,000 Carousel Stakes April 12, and the $100,000 Instant Racing Stakes on the Apple Blossom undercard. Nominations for these races close later this week.
Nominations to the $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 14 will be released April 5.