Southern California form proved superior in Saturday’s $600,000 Apple Blossom H. (G1) at Oaklawn Park when Ce Ce rallied to beat Ollie’s Candy by about half a head, giving West Coast invaders the Exacta in the 1 1/16-mile test for fillies and mares.
Saddled with post 14 under Victor Espinoza, Ce Ce was away extraordinarly quick and was able to tuck into fifth heading into the first turn. Up front, Ollie’s Candy was rushed to contest the lead from post 1, dueling with Cookie Dough through an opening quarter in :22.20.
Opening up to an outright lead down the backside, Ollie’s Candy continued to roll through a half-mile in :45.31, a pace which Cookie Dough and 5-2 favorite Serengeti Empress could not sustain chasing from second and third. Ollie’s Candy still looked strong turning for home through 6 furlongs in 1:10.27, but Ce Ce, who had been waiting in the catbird seat, took off after the leader.
Down the stretch, Ollie’s Candy still had a commanding lead of 2 1/2 lengths, but the effects of the pace and one final surge from Ce Ce got the money for the latter in the final strides. Point of Honor, the unexpected trailer early on, made a belated, wide rally to edge Street Band for third, 2 1/4 lengths behind the top pair.
Owned by Bo Hirsch and trained by Michael McCarthy, Ce Ce returned $9.80 after completing the distance over a fast track in 1:43.14.
“I thought coming to the eighth pole we might be running out of horse, trainer and jockey, it’s been a long time for all of us,” said McCarthy, referencing the long period racing in Southern California has ceased due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Victor did a world-class job today, first time he’s sat on a horse in I don’t know how many weeks.”
Following Street Band under the wire were Saracosa, Horologist, Go Google Yourself, Lady Apple, Awe Emma, Queen Nekia, 2-1 favorite Serengeti Empress, Come Dancing, Coldwater, and Cookie Dough.
First and second in her first two outings last year, Ce Ce was next entered in the Acorn (G1), but finished a distant fourth to Guarana. She later missed the remainder of her 3-year-old season due to injury.
She’s fulfilled early expectations this year. An easy allowance winner in her comeback on Feb. 17, Ce Ce ran down heavy favorite Hard Not to Love to take the Beholder Mile (G1) at Santa Anita by 3 1/4 lengths last month.
“This filly just keeps on giving. I thought she was destined for big things last year, unlucky to get hurt early in the summer, but she’s come back a bigger and stronger mare,” said McCarthy.
Ce Ce nearly doubled her career earnings with the Apple Blossom score, her bankroll now sitting at $726,600 from a line of 6-4-1-0.
Bred in Kentucky by her owner, the 4-year-old is by Elusive Quality and out of Grade 1 heroine Miss Houdini, a Belong to Me mare who also reared the Arkansas Derby (G2) winner Papa Clem. Ce Ce’s second dam was the multiple Grade 1 winner Magical Maiden.