The last time Ce Ce traveled to Hot Springs, Ark., nearly two years ago, she turned in a strong closing kick to defeat Ollie’s Candy by a neck in the 2020 Apple Blossom H. (G1) before a largely empty house at Oaklawn Park.
Having been crowned last month as the champion female sprinter of 2020 and with fans long since back on track with the easing of pandemic restrictions, Ce Ce will be more of a marquee attraction in her local reappearance Saturday in the $350,000 Azeri S. (G2) over 1 1/16 miles.
Best known for toppling defending champion Gamine in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (G1) at Del Mar last fall, Ce Ce will look to rebound from a season-opening second to Merneith in the Feb. 5 Santa Monica (G2) at Santa Anita over seven furlongs. If there’s a weakness to Ce Ce’s candidacy, it’s that the 2020 Apple Blossom has been her only victory in five attempts around two turns.
Shedaresthedevil toppled eventual champion older mare Letruska in the 2021 Azeri and later won three additional graded stakes last season, including the La Troienne (G1) and Clement L. Hirsch (G1). She out-finished Letruska again in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) when last seen, but was never a factor in the stretch and checked in sixth behind Japanese longshot Marche Lorraine.
The field of nine also includes Pauline’s Pearl and Lady Mystify, who traded decisions last fall with Lady Mystify prevailing by three lengths in the Remington Park Oaks (G3) and Pauline’s Pearl returning the favor by 1 1/2 lengths in the Zia Park Oaks. Pauline’s Pearl, who took the Fantasy (G3) over the Oaklawn strip last spring, enters the Azeri off a 3 3/4-length score over Golden Curl in the Houston Ladies Classic (G3) as a 3-5 choice.
Much longer prices will be had on everyone else. She’s All Wolfe was a decent second as a 36-1 outsider in the Feb. 12 Bayakoa (G3) over the track and trip, while 2021 Fantasy runner-up Ava’s Grace was likely in need of her comeback on the same card when fourth in a six-furlong allowance.