There is no getting around it: Compared to what it was supposed to look like, the field for the April 9 Apple Blossom Invitational Handicap (gr. I) is a major disappointment.
A field of only five, led by undefeated two-time champion Zenyatta, was drawn for the nine-furlong Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park. The race was supposed to have been a showdown between Zenyatta and Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandrauntil the owner of the latter announced last month that she would not be racing. Had the two sensational females met in the Apple Blossom, the purse would have been $5 million, the field likely would have included 10, and it would have been one of the most anticipated races in many years.
As it is now, the purse will carry $500,000 with Zenyatta the only horse having a grade I or grade II win on her résumé. Post time is set for 6:25 p.m. CST.
Owned by Jerry and Ann Moss, and trained by John Shirreffs, Zenyatta arrived by plane from California to Hot Springs, Ark., April 6 and was greeted by hundreds of fans at the airport before receiving a police escort to Oaklawn.
The 6-year-old daughter of Street Cry, perfect in 15 starts and with earnings of more than $5.6 million, has worked twice since beginning her season with a victory in the March 13 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap (gr. I). Her last breeze came April 2 at Hollywood Park when clocked at 1:13.40 for six furlongs under regular rider Mike Smith.
Winner of the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) against males last November at Santa Anita, Zenyatta will be making her second start outside of California. Not coincidentally, it will be in the Apple Blossom, a race she won by 4 1/2 lengths in 2008 in her fourth career start. It was the last race in which Zenyatta did not go off as the favorite. She was the 9-5 second choice that time, with champion Ginger Punch finishing third as the 2-5 favorite.
Zenyatta drew post 4 with Smith in the irons once again. She will carry top weight of 123 pounds, four less than she did in her last start, and was installed as the 3-5 favorite.
The only other multiple graded stakes winner in the field is Larry and Cindy Jones’ Just Jenda (3-1). The 4-year-old daughter of Menifee won the 2009 Honeybee (gr. III) at Oaklawn and scored the Monmouth Oaks (gr. III) later that summer in New Jersey. That was Just Jenda’s last trip to the winner’s circle, as she has lost three in a row coming into this race including a well-beaten fourth in the Azeri (gr. III) March 6 at Oaklawn.
A winner of six of 13 starts for earnings of $480,680, Just Jenda will be ridden by Terry Thompson.
Though Rachel Alexandra will not be competing, trainer Steve Asmussen will have a starter in the form of Winchell Thoroughbreds’ War Echo
. The 4-year-old Tapit
filly won the Silverbulletday Stakes (gr. III) at Fair Grounds as a sophomore and later that winter romped in the DRF Distaff over the same course. But she comes off a fifth-place finish in the Azeri and is winless in both starts this season. Shaun Bridgmohan will have the mount.
The other starters are Westrock Stables’ Be Fair
, and Wayne Sanders and Larry Hirsch’s Taptam
. Be Fair enters out of an allowance victory at Oaklawn March 4, her first trip to the winner’s circle since taking an off-the-turf renewal of the Lake George Stakes (gr. III) at Saratoga last summer. Be Fair, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, was fourth to Rachel Alexandra in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) and has not hit the board in any of her five grade I efforts. Calvin Borel will ride.
Texas-bred Taptam was ninth in the Azeri—her graded stakes debut—after consecutive wins to start her 5-year-old season. The Bret Calhoun-trained mare will be stretching out to nine furlongs for the first time.
$500,000 Apple Blossom (gr. I, Race 9, 6:25 p.m. CST), 4 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Dirt)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Be Fair (FL), 4/F L C H Borel, 120, D W Lukas
2. Taptam (TX), 5/M L M C Berry, 117, W B Calhoun
3. War Echo (KY), 4/F L S Bridgmohan, 120, S M Asmussen
4. Zenyatta (KY), 6/M L* M E Smith, 123, J A Shirreffs
5. Just Jenda (KY), 4/F L T J Thompson, 120, C Jones