Bloomin' Good Apple Blossom on Tap

Only six fillies and mares passed the entry box for Saturday's Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) at Oaklawn Park, but oh, what a cast. Of the six, all are grade I winners--the Brazilian-bred Verruma is a grade I winner in her native country and a grade II winner in the U.S.

Affluent, fourth in her last start in the La Canada at Santa Anita on Feb. 9, is the 118 pound co-highweight for the $500,000 1 1/16-mile race. She'll share her honor with Miss Linda, winner of the Sabin Handicap (gr. III) in her last start at Gulfstream Park.

Affluent, whose dam is out of Hall of Famer Bayakoa, is a Janis Whitham homebred daughter of Affirmed. Trained by Ron McAnally, she'll be ridden by regular rider Eddie Delahoussaye. Last year, Affluent won back-to-back grade I events in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup on turf at Keeneland and the La Brea at Santa Anita. At Oaklawn last year she ran fourth in the Fantasy Stakes (gr. II) for 3-year-old fillies. A winner of six of 13 lifetime starts, Affluent has earned $401,200.

Miss Linda, who won last year's Overbrook Spinster Stakes (gr. I) before a sixth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I), will be ridden by regular rider Richard Migliore. The 5-year-old Argentine-bred mare who is now owned by the Ackerley Brothers Farm, is trained by John Kimmel. The Apple Blossom marks her second start of the year. A winner of eight of 14 starts, Miss Linda has earned $674,178.

The richest distaffer in the lineup is the $3,067,040-earning Spain. Nearing Serena's Song's all-time North American earnings mark for females, Spain is coming off a second-place finish in the Santa Margarita Handicap (gr. I) behind fellow Apple Blossom opponent Azeri. Trained by D. Wayne Lukas, the Thororoughbred Corp.-owned 5-year-old won the 2000 Breeders' Cup Distaff and just missed by a nose in last year's running to Unbridled Elaine. In last year's Apple Blossom, Spain finished fourth behind eventual older female champion Gourmet Girl.

The 4-year-old Azeri will break from post one in the Apple Blossom and will be ridden by Mike Smith. Azeri, bred by the late Allen E. Paulson and campaigned by trainer Laura De Seroux for the Allen E. Paulson Living Trust, won the Santa Margarita in her last start by three convincing lengths. She'll carry 117 pounds.

A wild-card in the race is Verne Winchell's Fleet Renee, a two-time grade I winner last year. The daughter of Seattle Slew will be making her first start since a third-place finish in the Gazelle Handicap (gr. I) for 3-year-old fillies last September. The robust daughter of Seattle Slew is trained by Michael Dickinson. John Velazquez will be aboard Fleet Renee, who breaks from the outside six post and will carry 117 pounds.

Verruma, owned by Chapman, Clifton, and Tsujimoto, is trained by James Chapman. In her last outing in the Feb. 17 Santa Maria Handicap (gr. I), the 6-year-old bay mare finished second, missing by a head to Favorite Funtime at the Apple Blossom distance.

Post Horse Weight Rider
1 Azeri 117 Mike Smith
2 Verruma 113 Garrett Gomez
3 Affluent 118 Eddie Delahoussaye
4 Miss Linda 118 Richard Migliore
5 Spain 117 Pat Day
6 Fleet Renee 117 John Velazquez