Helen Alexander and Helen Groves’ homebred Acoma has been terrific in her last three wins and now the 4-year-old Empire Maker filly will try to add a grade I victory to her résumé when facing a short field in the $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap April 4 at Oaklawn Park.
Acoma enters the 1 1/16-mile Apple Blossom off a scintillating five-length score in the Azeri (gr. III) over the same Oaklawn dirt strip on March 8. In that two-turn test, she stayed near the back of the field in the early going, moved into winning position around the far turn and drew away like a rocket in the final furlong under Julien Leparoux.
Acoma concluded her sophomore campaign, which included five wins from eight starts, with consecutive turf victories in Kentucky. The bay filly won the Valley View (gr. IIIT) at Keeneland in October and three weeks later took the Mrs. Revere (gr. IIT) at Churchill Downs.
“She got bumped at the start and was a little farther back than she should have been in the Azeri, but really ran well anyway,” said trainer David Carroll. “I don’t expect her to be that far back in this race.
“She doing fine and she shipped well. This race has been the major goal for her ever since we put her on the turf last fall. A grade one would mean everything for her, especially with her pedigree (out of the Danzig mare Aurora).
“We haven’t mapped out a plan beyond this race, but she’s a fantastic filly and there are plenty of options.”
Leparoux will have the mount on Acoma, who has four graded stakes wins and earnings of more than $480,000. They will break from post 5. Acoma will carry top weight of 120 pounds, giving five to10 pounds to her rivals.
There are no other graded stakes winners in the Apple Blossom, but Darley’s Seventh Street looms as the biggest threat to Acoma. A 4-year-old daughter of Street Cry, Seventh Street turned in a solid effort in the seven-furlong Barbara Fritchie Handicap (gr. II) Feb. 14 at Laurel Park. After rearing at the break and falling well back in the early going, she made a big, five-wide move under Rajiv Maragh to finish second as the odds-on favorite.
Seventh Street won three straight prior to the Fritchie, including romps in a pair of optional claiming races at Aqueduct. This will be her first try around two turns. Maragh will ride for Kiaran McLaughlin.
Also coming into the race in fine form is Jac Mac Stable’s Superior Storm, a Louisiana-bred who has won seven of her last eight starts. All of her 11 career wins came in Louisiana, except for her most recent start when defeating Proud Spell in an optional claimer March 12 at Oaklawn. Richard Jackson trains the 4-year-old daughter of Stormy Atlantic. She is expected to be an early pace factor.
The other two rivals, French Kiss and Color Me Up, finished fourth and seventh to Acoma, respectively, in the Azeri.