The Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) at Oaklawn Park Saturday promises to be one of the more intriguing matchups of the year as six older fillies and mares have been entered, including grade I winners Azeri, Wild Spirit, Island Fashion, and Star Parade.Azeri, who has not started since a second-place finish in the Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. I) in September, will carry highweight of 123 pounds in the 1 1/16 mile contest. The 6-year-old daughter of Jade Hunter will also be making her first start for trainer D. Wayne Lukas.Owner Michael Paulson transferred Azeri from Laura de Seroux over the winter. A two-time champion, including Horse of the Year in 2002, Azeri was detected to have a leg injury following her defeat in the Lady's Secret, which forced her to take the rest of the year off. Paulson had Azeri evaluated by several of the top equine clinics in the country and she received a clean bill of health, prompting her return to training with Lukas.Azeri has won 14 of 16 career starts with two seconds and has earned $3,044,820 in three prior seasons of racing.Wild Spirit, who will carry 119 pounds for trainer Bobby Frankel, is also coming off a layoff. The 5-year-old daughter of Hussonet has not started since winning the Ruffian Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont Park in September. Wild Spirit arrived last year from Chile, where she was Horse of the Year. She won the Shuvee Handicap (gr. II) and Delaware Handicap (gr. II) in her first two starts and in her only other try finished second by a nose in the Personal Ensign Handicap (gr. I).Island Fashion will carry 118 pounds in her first start since a game second-place finish against males in the Mach 6 Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I). The 4-year-old daughter of Petionville was an Eclipse Award finalist last year with wins in the Alabama (gr. I) and La Brea (gr. I) stakes and she started this year with a win in the Santa Monica Handicap (gr. I). Owned by Everest Stables and trained by Marcelo Polanco, Island Fashion has won five of 12 career starts and earned $1,462,970.
Gary Tanaka's Star Parade started the year with her first grade I victory in Santa Maria Handicap (gr. I) and finished second last month to Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) winner Adoration in the Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap (gr. I). The field in post position order: 1. Azeri, M. Smith, 123 2. Wild Spirit, J. Bailey, 119 3. Star Parade, J. McKee, 114 4. Keys to the Heart, E. Prado, 111 5. Island Fashion, K. Desormeaux, 118 6. Golden Sonata, C. Marquez, 112