The highlight at Oaklawn Park on Saturday is worth the entrance fee on its own, as Grade 1 winners Letruska, Ce Ce, Clairiere and Maracuja are set for a mighty showdown in the million dollar 2022 Apple Blossom Handicap, won last year by Letruska and in 2020 by Ce Ce. The supporting feature is equally intriguing, with the in-form Fearless taking on local heroes Rated R Superstar and Plainsman in a tight contest for the G2 Oaklawn Handicap.
2022 Apple Blossom Handicap
There are only five runners in the 2022 Apple Blossom Handicap, the main event at Oaklawn Park on Saturday, but two of them are champions, four are G1 winners, four come off a win on their latest start, and the variance of weights carried adds further spice to what is truly a race to savour.
The headliner is the amazing Letruska, last year’s champion older dirt female who boasts a lifetime record of 18-for-24 that includes four US G1s, including this race 12 months ago when she nosed out the top-class Monomoy Girl. She wins her races by going to the front and staying there, setting fractions that the opposition can’t handle and then pulling out a little more to fend off any challengers in deep stretch.
That’s exactly what she did in the G3 Royal Delta over a mile-sixteenth at Gulfstream Park on her first run of 2022, easing clear of overmatched rivals to set herself up for bigger tests such as this. Her only defeat in her last seven races came in the BC Distaff when she got caught in a suicidal speed duel and, as usual, she’ll be very hard to beat today despite spotting 3lb to her two main dangers.
Last year’s champion female sprinter Ce Ce is nine-for-18 lifetime and has won three of her last four, including the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint and last time out the G2 Azeri over today’s course and distance, in which she stalked the pace before digging in gamely to get the job done by three-quarters of a length.
The majority of her wins have come sprinting, but she won this race two years ago – just nailing it by a head – and although she’d be happier over shorter, her blend of speed and stamina makes her a big threat.
The third ace in this high-rolling game is Clairiere, who spent much of last year looking at the back end of champion three-year-old filly Malathaat, until she finally got the place to herself in the G1 Cotillion over a mile-sixteenth at Parx Racing, where she was a convincing winner and had Maracuja three and a quarter lengths back in fourth. Her fourth place in the BC Distaff next time out was a lifetime best – beaten only a length – and she is likely to progress further with maturity.
She tuned up for this with a pleasant stroll in an allowance optional claimer over a mile-sixteenth at the Fair Grounds and will be sharper now, although she’ll need to be.
Maracuja had earlier shocked both Malathaat and Clairiere when stealing the G1 Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga by a head, but that was a one-off and she couldn’t back it up. She did get her year off to a bright start when winning an allowance optional claimer over course and distance – Miss Imperial third, beaten three lengths – but she swims in pretty deep water now.
|Horse||Jockey||Horse Racing Odds courtesy of JazzSports|
|Maracuja||Ricardo Santana, Jr.||+675|
|Letruska||Jose L. Ortiz||+110|
|Miss Imperial||Tiago Josue Pereira||+1400|
|Ce Ce||Victor Espinoza||+125|
Our Apple Blossom Betting Prediction
This is a fascinating contest between three big names, but champion older mare LETRUSKA was as good as ever on her first start of 2022 and can lead her rivals a merry dance again.
The million-dollar Oaklawn is the third leg of a lucrative series at the Arkansas circuit, and the principals from the first two races are here in strength to parlay previous winnings into one big pot.
The most popular horse on the grounds is the old-timer Rated R Superstar, who is in the pink at the age of nine. He has only missed the board once in his last eight starts, and won his first Graded stakes for almost four years when surging away to land the G3 Essex here over a mile-sixteenth last month, stretching two and a quarter lengths clear of Plainsman, who had a neck to spare over longshot Beau Luminarie who, in turn, was a neck ahead of Thomas Shelby.
It was quite the reversal of form from the G3 Razorback, also here over a mile-sixteenth, in February, in which Plainsman dug in hard to hold off Thomas Shelby by a neck, with Rated R Superstar three lengths away fifth after never getting competitive, Last Samurai seventh and Super Stock last of eight; the last two mentioned had filled the exacta in a stakes over the same course and distance in December.
At first glance there is not a great deal between three or four of these old rivals, but Plainsman has hit the board in his last nine starts – including the G1 Cigar Mile – and his overall body of work is superior to his Essex and Razorback comrades.
Only two of today’s eight runners have not been embroiled in this very competitive series, with G1 winner Idol shipping in from the west coast in a bid to get his career back on track after almost seven months away. He has only run once in the 13 months since his success in the Santa Anita Handicap, and that was a lacklustre showing when sixth in the G1 Awesome Again, also at Santa Anita, behind the star-crossed Medina Spirit.
Coming from the other side of the compass is Fearless, who has been making hay at Gulfstream Park in the last six months, never out of the first two in five starts and a six-length winner of the G3 Ghostzapper over a mile-eighth on his most recent outing three weeks ago.
This will be tougher, but he’s in the same romping form as he was before finishing runner-up in this race 12 months ago, splitting G1 winners Silver State and Express Train – with Rated R Superstar last of eight – in a much hotter contest than today’s affair.
|Horse||Jockey||Horse Racing Odds courtesy of JazzSports|
|Beau Luminarie||Florent Geroux||+1400|
|Thomas Shelby||David Cohen||+900|
|Last Samurai||Jon Kenton Court||+900|
|Idol||Ramon A. Vazquez||+700|
|Rated R Superstar||Ricardo Santana, Jr.||+600|
|Super Stock||Isaac Castillo||+1000|
|Fearless||Jose L. Ortiz||+110|
Our Oaklawn Handicap Betting Pick
There isn’t much between the local crew and they could be vulnerable to the in-form incomer FEARLESS, runner-up in this race 12 months ago and the selection to go one better this time.
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