November 29, 2023

Serengeti Empress among full, wide-open field in Apple Blossom

Serengeti Empress wired the Azeri (Coady Photography)

Infused with locally-based talent as well as from California and Florida, where there are no other proper places to run, Saturday’s $600,000 Apple Blossom H. (G1) at Oaklawn Park appears wide open with a full gate of 14 fillies and mares.

Serengeti Empress, romping winner of last month’s Azeri (G2) in the slop, will take some catching again from post 11, though breaking to her immediate inside is another speed horse, last-out Royal Delta (G3) winner Cookie Dough.

Another fast one is Come Dancing, the leading sprint specialist among older fillies and mares last season. The Grade 1 veteran has won at this trip before, at Belmont Park, but has yet to race around two turns. Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, who won the Apple Blossom in 1983, 1987, and 2004, will be the trainer of record for Come Dancing, who’s normally based in New York with Carlos Martin.

The California contingent includes Ce Ce, who turned in a career peak taking the Mar. 14 Beholder Mile (G1) at Santa Anita by more than three lengths.

“She beat a very nice filly in Hard Not to Love. The way she did it, I thought was very impressive. Certainly, second race back off a layoff, to win a Grade 1, kind of tells you a lot about her,” said trainer Michael McCarthy.

Also in from California is Ollie’s Candy, winner of the Clement L. Hirsch (G1) at Del Mar last summer but seven lengths third in the Beholder Mile in her first race since the Breeders’ Cup.

Looking to make amends for poor runs in the Azeri are Grade 1 winner Street Band, who trainer Larry Jones believes can run more effectively on a dry track, and multiple graded stakes winner Lady Apple, who beat both Serengeti Empress and Street Band in the Houston Ladies Classic (G3) in late January.

Stepping up in class off a photo-finish win in the Feb. 17 Bayakoa (G3) is Go Google Yourself, who’s won three of her last four. Point of Honor, who flashed talent last season winning the Black-Eyed Susan (G2) and placing in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) and Alabama (G1), figures fitter after running second in a too-sort, 7-furlong overnight handicap at Tampa on Mar. 7 following a long layoff.

Horologist, Saracosa, or Queen Nekia would be surprise winners, Awe Emma and Coldwater even more so.

Rain has disproportionately affected Oaklawn’s biggest cards so far this meet, and Saturday may be no exception. Early forecasts are for highs in the mid-to-upper 60s with a chance of scattered showers.