Quality will trump quantity in Saturday’s $1 million Apple Blossom H. (G1) at Oaklawn Park when Secret Oath and Clairiere will comprise half the field in the 1 1/16-mile fixture for fillies and mares.
The Apple Blossom represents the second meeting of the year between the two, and their third overall. The pair first met in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) at Keeneland last fall, a race Clairiere narrowly lost in a three-horse photo, with an over-the-top Secret Oath more than five lengths farther up the track.
However, Secret Oath comfortably won their most recent showdown, in the March 11 Azeri (G2), with Clairiere 2 3/4 lengths behind in second. Secret Oath is 4-for-5 at Oaklawn, her only loss occurring against the colts in the Arkansas Derby (G1), while Clairiere has finished second in both local outings, the first being in last year’s Apple Blossom.
Hot and Sultry, a retreating fourth in the Azeri after pressing a modest pace, figures to be the default speed in the small lineup. But even that potential strategic advantage might not be enough for filly who has class to find in order to upset.
Guaranteed a minimum $50,000 payday for participating is the seemingly overmatched I Feel the Need, whose five losses during the current meet have come in either first-level or starter allowances.
The supporting feature is the $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint H. (G3) over six furlongs, won in recent years by division champions Mitole, Jackie’s Warrior, and Whitmore, the latter three times.
Tejano Twist, whose two victories at the meet includes the March 18 Whitmore (G3), looms as a serious contender again in a rematch with Edge to Edge and several Whitmore also-rans, but his most serious rivals might prove to be two rising up from the allowance ranks.
The Godolphin homebred Strobe has been a convincing winner in four of five starts for Brad Cox, the most recent being a 5 1/4-length, third-level allowance score at Fair Grounds in late January. The Steve Asmussen-trained Skelly, meanwhile, is hitting his best stride after passing his first two allowance conditions locally in gate-to-wire fashion. Also of note is the the colorful closer Surveillance, who racked up three stakes wins on the main track at Fair Grounds over the winter.