On the brink of retirement a month ago, Gold Medal Dancer is in the best form of her career as she nears the biggest race of her career.
In her first workout since a breakthrough victory, she traveled five furlongs in a brisk :59 1/5 March 28 at Oaklawn Park in preparation for the $600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) for older fillies and mares April 10. It was easily the fastest of 17 works recorded at the distance. Clockers caught Gold Medal Dancer's final quarter-mile in :23 2/5, galloping out six furlongs in a dazzling 1:12 1/5.
Gold Medal Dancer breezed over a fast track moments after Oaklawn opened for training on a chilly, mostly cloudy morning. She is coming off a half-length victory over champion Untapable in the $300,000 Azeri Stakes (gr. II) March 14.
Trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel said Josephine Abercrombie of Pin Oak Stable was prepared to retire the homebred Medaglia d'Oro 5-year-old to her broodmare band before Gold Medal Dancer won the Azeri.
"I was fighting for all I was worth that this could be her best year," Von Hemel said with a laugh. "They were seriously considering if she didn't run well, that it could have been her last race."
Gold Medal Dancer opened 2015 with a third-place finish in the $100,000 Bayakoa Stakes (gr. III) Feb. 15. The Azeri was Gold Medal Dancer's seventh victory from 16 lifetime starts and increased her earnings to $529,269. Her only other stakes victory came in the $75,000 Minnesota H.B.P.A. Distaff Stakes in June 2014 at Canterbury Park in Minnesota.
"She's a big, good-looking mare, bred well," Von Hemel said. "It's gratifying getting her where she should have been."
Also working Saturday was Pearl Turn, who went a half-mile in :48 4/5 for trainer Will VanMeter. Afterward, the trainer said he's "definitely leaning toward" running the March 14 allowance/optional claiming winner in the Apple Blossom.
According to trainer Steve Asmussen, a decision concerning Untapable's next start will be made after a scheduled work March 30. The 3-year-old champion filly of 2014 is under consideration for the Apple Blossom or a race at Churchill Downs in early May.
Trainer Ken McPeek said fifth-place Azeri finisher Flashy American will pass the Apple Blossom in favor of the $100,000 Doubledogdare Stakes (gr. III) April 17 at Keeneland or the $150,000 Sixty Sails Handicap (gr. III) April 18 at Hawthorne Race Course. Flashy American, the defending Sixty Sails champion, worked a half-mile in :50 4/5 Saturday morning.