Apple Blossom H. (G1) — Race 5 (3:18 p.m. ET)
Reigning Eclipse Award champions Letruska and Ce Ce square off Saturday at Oaklawn Park in an attempt to join a select group of mares with multiple victories in the $1 million Apple Blossom H. (G1).
Letruska, last year’s champion older dirt female and a winner 18 times in 24 starts, is the defending titlist in the 1 1/16-mile Apple Blossom, having edged dual champion Monomoy Girl by a nose 12 months ago. Letruska won six graded stakes in total last year, and kicked off her 2022 campaign on Feb. 26 with a three-length win in the Royal Delta (G3) at Gulfstream.
Ce Ce, who claimed champion female sprinter honors last term, was victorious in the 2020 Apple Blossom, also in a thriller. Although concentrating last season on one-turn races, the six-year-old stepped back up in distance for the March 12 Azeri (G2), which she won over graded veterans Pauline’s Pearl and 2021 Azeri winner Shedaresthedevil.
Letruska will carry 124 pounds, three more than Ce Ce.
Three Hall of Fame mare haves won multiple runnings of the Apple Blossom. Paseana was the first two-time winner, in 1992-93, and was followed a decade later by Azeri, who won three in a row in 2002-04. The legendary Zenyatta won non-consecutive editions in 2008 and 2010.
Clairiere, who captured the Cotillion (G1) last fall prior to out-finishing Letruska in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), enters off a facile third-level allowance win at Fair Grounds, which she won by 6 1/2 lengths as a 1-10 favorite. Maracuja, whose biggest claim to fame thus far was an upset of the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) last summer over champion Malathaat, also enters the Apple Blossom off an allowance score, hers being a two-length triumph over the track and distance.
The outsider in the field is Miss Imperial, third to Maracuja last time and last season a winner of multiple minor stakes at Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg.
Oaklawn H. (G2) — Race 11 (6:41 p.m. ET)
The mainstays of the local handicap division during the Oaklawn meet will have a final examination, of sorts, in the $1 million Oaklawn H. (G2) over nine furlongs.
The venerable Rated R Superstar, age nine, registered upset wins in the Fifth Season S. and Essex H. (G3) earlier in the meet. However, he was only fifth in a speed-dominated edition of the Razorback H. (G3) two back, finishing behind returning rivals Plainsman and Thomas Shelby, who ran second and fourth, respectively, in the Essex last time.
Last Samurai, who won the Dec. 11 Poinsettia S. from 2021 Arkansas Derby (G1) winner Super Stock, cuts back in distance after running Lone Rock to a neck decision in the 12-furlong Temperence Hill S. three weeks ago. Beau Luminarie exits third-place efforts in both the Dec. 18 Tinsel S. and the Essex.
The Oaklawn ‘Cap is spiced up by the presence of two shippers. Fearless invades from South Florida, where he’s been a three-time graded stakes winner at Gulfstream for Todd Pletcher. Twice second to Speaker’s Corner before taking the Ghostzapper (G3) by six lengths earlier this month, Fearless has been installed the 9-5 morning line favorite.
Idol, the 2021 Santa Anita H. (G1) winner, has raced only once since. That was in the Oct. 2 Awesome Again (G1), in which he finished a distant sixth behind the late Medina Spirit.
Saturday’s card also features the $150,000 Oaklawn S., a nine-furlong stakes for three-year-olds which serves as a “Win and You’re In” for the May 21 Preakness (G1) at Pimlico. Seven colts and geldings were entered.