Ermine wins the Apple Blossom, Saturday at Oaklawn.<br><a target="blank" href="">Order This Photo</a>

Ermine wins the Apple Blossom, Saturday at Oaklawn.
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Coady Photography/Jeff Coady

Ermine Shines in Apple Blossom Triumph

(from Oaklawn report)
Arthur and Stephanie Preston’s Ermine rallied four wide under Eddie Castro to win the $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) {VIDEO} going away by 1 1/4 lengths before a crowd of 26,003 on Saturday afternoon at Oaklawn Park.

Take D’ Tour, who made most of the pace for Eibar Coa in the 1 1/16-mile fixture for older fillies and mares, settled for second, 4 1/4 lengths before 13-10 favorite Round Pond, the ’06 Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I) heroine in the field of eight.

Flying the Oxbow Racing silks of Victory Gallop, the 1998 Arkansas Derby (gr. II) and Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner, Ermine, a 4-year-old Florida-bred daughter of Exchange Rate trained by Ronny Werner, settled into a ground-saving trip in sixth place as the compact field turned into the backstretch.

At that point, Take D’ Tour was on top, under pressure from longshot River Savage after fractions of :23 1/5 and :47 as Round Pond raced between horses in the second flight. River Savage took a head advantage over Take D' Tour as they reached the six-furlong mark in 1:12 1/5, but she would drop out quickly after that.

When the real racing began on the second turn. Edgar Prado took Round Pond to the inside while Castro angled Ermine four-wide to make a run at Take D’ Tour.

As Round Pond floundered along the fence, Ermine, under a right-hand stick, took dead aim at Take D’ Tour and blew by her from the outside in the final sixteenth of a mile. With Castro wrapping up in the final 100 yards, she went on for a decisive victory.

"Once we got outside she really kicked in with a big late move," Castro said. "I was comfortable down the backside to sit right in behind the leaders.

"When (fourth finisher Baghdaria) moved up to challenge the leader around the second turn, I got in behind her so I could get around the horses up front when I asked her for her best."

The victory was the fifth in 13 starts for Ermine, and the $300,000 winner’s share spiked the chestnut’s earnings to $851,082. Carrying 116 pounds -- four fewer than the top-weighted Round Pond -- she was clocked in 1:44 and paid $8, $4 and $2.40 as the second choice.

Take D’Tour ($5.20, $3) capped an exacta worth $40.20, and Round Pond ($2.40), who had won five of six previous starts at Oaklawn, completed a 4-5-7 trifecta that returned $64.80 for $1.

Werner came into the Apple Blossom with a 6-3-7 record from 28 starters at the Oaklawn meet.

As for Ermine, who had been second in three other grade I events – the Kentucky Oaks in 2006 and the Santa Maria and Santa Margarita at Santa Anita this season, this was her third victory – and second stakes score -- in four career starts at Oaklawn. She annexed the 2006 Honeybee Stakes just prior to her runner-up effort in the Kentucky Oaks.

Baghdaria was trailed by Rahys' Appeal, River Savage and Lemons Forever. India gave way after pressing the early leaders and was eased in the stretch.

(Chart, Equibase)