Multiple Grade 1 winner Elate did not find a soft spot for her return. Unraced since a neck second in the Personal Ensign (G1) last August, the Bill Mott-trained mare will launch her five-year-old season against a trio of Grade 1-winning rivals in Saturday’s $350,000 Azeri (G2) at Oaklawn Park.
A local prep for the $700,000 Apple Blossom (G1) on April 14, the Azeri marks the first of four stakes on a dynamite card that features divisions of the $750,000 Rebel (G2) for Kentucky Derby contenders. A short but stout field of six has been entered for 1 1/16-mile race and Elate proved herself off the layoff when posting an easy win in the Delaware H. (G2) last summer off an 8 ½-month break. Regular rider Jose Ortiz will be to guide the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro.
Midnight Bisou posted a pair of Grade 1 tallies and also placed in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), Kentucky Oaks (G1), Alabama (G1) and Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) last season. Conditioned by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, the four-year-old opened 2019 with a rallying score in the Houston Ladies Classic (G3) at Sam Houston in late January. Mike Smith rides the Midnight Lute filly.
Champion female sprinter Shamrock Rose will stretch back out to a route for Mark Casse. Winner of the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) two back, the four-year-old never fired over a sloppy track in the Hurricane Bertie (G3) at Gulfstream Park and figures to appreciate the expected fast conditions Saturday. David Cohen picks up the assignment.
Eskimo Kisses recorded an impressive performance in the Alabama two back, romping by 6 ½ lengths, and will make her first appearance since an unplaced effort in the Spinster (G1) last October. The four-year-old filly packs a late punch and Kenny McPeek has tabbed Alex Canchari as her new rider.
Completing the line-up are Tapa Tapa Tapa, a sharp five-length winner of the January 19 Wayward Lass at Tampa Bay Downs; and Summer’s Indy, who exits a couple of placings versus allowance foes.
A couple of races later on the 11-race program, nine older horses will square off in the $350,000 Essex H. at 1 1/16 miles. Multiple Grade 2 scorer Giant Expectations will vie for favoritism and Snapper Sinclair will attract support following a sharp allowance triumph over the track.