The sports industry remains shut down and the leagues remain on hiatus. But the Sport of Kings continues to run at a handful of selected race tracks. That includes Oaklawn Park, where the biggest race of the weekend has drawn a full field of 14 for the $600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap. The 8 ½ furlong Grade 1 race for older fillies and mares is most competitive with some exceptional race horses and four mares sporting career earnings over $1 million.
As sportsbooks get more creative with unique sports and new offerings, horse racing provides fans an opportunity to bet on something that has been a stamina stalwart in betting for decades. Support of horse racing continues during these difficult times with charities ramping up services to help track workers during these turbulent times amid the COVID-19 health crisis.
This featured race in the Apple Blossom will provide some solid betting opportunities and a chance to bet horse races online with FanDuel or TVG while watching the races live on your device. Along with Win, Place and Show betting, handicappers will be shooting for an exacta and trifecta score and also take a shot on the late Pick 4 which starts in Race 8 with the $350,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) at 6 furlongs. That race could prove to be a key race on the road to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint just as it was last year when Mitole won the Count Fleet over Whitmore and then went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita in with Whitmore finishing third.
Apple Blossom post positions and odds
The Racing Festival of the South usually includes the Arkansas Derby, but that race was moved to May 2 and is a major prep race for the rescheduled Kentucky Derby. So the Apple Blossom takes top honors for the biggest race at Oaklawn in April, and this year’s winner will add to the impressive list of winners that make up a who’s who of some of the best race mares of all time from Midnight Basou (2018), Bayakoa (1989), Paseana (1992, 1993), Azeri (2002, 2003, 2004), Stellar Wind (2017) and of course the great champion mare Zenyatta (2010), who won easily as the dominating 1-20 favorite. Zenyatta went on to finish her career in 2010 with 19 wins in 20 starts and her lone defeat a runner-up finish in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic against the boys after winning that same race in 2009 along with the Preakness Stakes.
|1||Ollie's Candy||12-1||J. Rosario||J. Sadler|
|2||Coldwater||50-1||W. De La Cruze||P. Eurton|
|3||Awe Emma||20-1||C. Lanarie||D. Stewart|
|4||Come Dancing||3-1||F. Geroux||D. Lukas|
|5||Point of Honor||10-1||D. Van Dyke||G. Weaver|
|6||Street Band||15-1||S. Doyle||J. Jones|
|7||Queen Nekia||20-1||D. Cohen||S. Joseph, Jr.|
|8||Saracosa||30-1||M. Garcia||C. Contreras|
|9||Horologist||20-1||T. Baze||R. Baltas|
|10||Cookie Dough||10-1||A. Cedillo||S. Joseph, Jr.|
|11||Serengeti Empress||4-1||J. Talamo||T. Amoss|
|12||Go Google Yourself||12-1||B. Hernandez, Jr.||P. McGee|
|13||Lady Apple||15-1||R. Santana, Jr.||S. Asmuseen|
|14||Ce Ce||7-2||V. Espinoza||M. McCarthy|
Mixed signals on the weather, which show sunny skies and mid-60’s temperatures in Hot Springs, Arkansas, but a few sites suggest a small chance of rain. A fast track should provide for a strong pace with a handful of runners pressing the expected pace setter Serengeti Express breaking from the 11 post.
The Apple Blossom is Race 10 at Oaklawn Park with post time scheduled at 6:16 p.m. ET. Racing coverage from NBCSN will also be offered this weekend via a simulcast of “Trackside Live” from 4-8 p.m. ET Saturday and Sunday.
Best Apple Blossom betting sites
Apple Blossom insight and analysis
The top contenders in this year’s Apple Blossom will be chasing Serengeti Empress (4-1) out of the gate. Jockey Joe Talamo will try to get her to the front from post 11 under with more speed in this race.
Serengeti Empress won last year’s Kentucky Oaks wire-to-wire from the far outside, and had three runner-up finishes since until winning the Azeri Stakes (G2) by six lengths last month going wire-to-sire as the 9-5 favorite in her Oaklawn debut. She set and maintained a blistering pace in the rain over a sloppy (sealed) track. Serengeti Empress easily beat big longshot Saracosa (3rd) and local runners Street Band (4th) and Lady Apple (5th), who both went to post at 5-2 odds that day. All three of those runners are back to challenge in the Apple Blossom with Street Band (15-1) and Lady Apple (15-1) both pace pressers looking to finish stronger at this same 1 1/16 mile distance.
Lady Apple is an overlay in the Apple Blossom, and she also finished third just behind Serengeti Empress in last year’s Kentucky Oaks and won her 2020 debut in a Grade 3 race off a layoff before her last race over a sloppy track. She’s 3-for-4 at Oaklawn and has won five route races. Also returning from the Azeri for the Apple Blossom is Awe Emma (20-1), who unseated her rider at the start of the Azeri and has a new jockey Corey Lanerie.
The favorite Come Dancing (3-1) should be stalking under first-time rider Florent Geroux, who takes over for Javier Castellano who is recovering from the coronavirus. For those that follow and like to use speed ratings, Come Dancing, Serengeti Express and Ce Ce are the three horses that have posted at least 100 Beyer Speed Figures. But Come Dancing’s speed figures have dropped in each of her last five races since winning the Distaff Handicap (G3) at Aqueduct last April and she’s making her first start over two turns. All eight of her wins have come in New York, and 13 of her 14 starts have been on the NYRA circuit at Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga. Her last start was at Santa Anita in November when she had her worst graded stakes finish (6th) as the 2-1 second choice in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.
While many expect a bounceback performance, we’ll fade the favorite Come Dancing off a layoff and away from her preferred track despite being conditioned for this race by Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who was assigned by her connections in New York to Lukas due to the COVID-19 health crisis and non-travel recommendations and track restrictions for many industry personnel.
With no fans in the stands to cheer on Come Dancing, we’ll evaluate and look towards some of the other seven graded stakes winner shipping in for this very competitive race between 14 fillies and mare.
Three Florida shippers are competitively priced, and Cookie Dough (10-1) should also be pushing a fast pace along with Go Google Yourself (12-1), who is a bit overlooked in here with three wins in her last four showing good speed up front and working well for this at the Fair Grounds. Point of Honor (10-1) is well bred by Curlin and she will be looking to close off the fast fractions. One of the best young riders out West is aboard in Draden Van Dyke, and Point of Honor has run at four different race tracks while winning three times and also has three runner-up finishes her last three starts. Point of Honor has produced consistent speed numbers and won the Black-Eyed Susan (G2) last year at 1 1/8 miles while finishing well in front of Cookie Dough, and she should be better than her sprint race last time out.
California Shippers and Grade 1 winners Ollie’s Candy (12-1) and the second choice Ce Ce (7-2) makes her two turn debut and both also race at Oaklawn for the first time with Santa Anita closed due to COVID-19. Ce Ce makes her third graded stakes start and the lightly-raced 4-year-old is now 2-for-2 this year since returning from a minor injury and layoff.
Ce Ce won the one-mile Beholder (G1) last month from off the pace and was seven lengths better than Ollie’s Candy. Ce Ce’s con continue her improved racing as her style can pay off sitting off the leaders with a fast pace allowing her to stride home strong down the stretch. But Ollie’s Candy is a hard-knocking mare worth inclusion at this value price. She makes her tenth straight graded stakes start having won two with seven in-the-money finishes out West plus a fourth place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff last November when unable to hold up down the stretch at a longer 1 1/8 mile distance against Blue Prize and champion Midnight Basou. Serengeti Empress finished third also unable to hold onto the lead in the stretch.
Horologist (15-1) is worth considering or including at a price. Watch her along with the weather in case the small chance of showers emerges. She has 10 in-the-money finishes with five wins in 14 starts and off a nose loss while posting her best ever speed numbers.
What happened last year?
Last year’s Apple Blossom Handicap was under cloudy skies and a good track, and the 4-5 favorite Midnight Bisou had a late rally to get up and win by a nose. She would go on to win four more times last year and also finish second in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff as the even money favorite while earning Champion Older Female Horse of the Year honors. She has 12 wins and eight in-the-money finishes in 20 starts with more than $7 million earned on the racetrack. The third-place finisher was Serengeti Express, who is the third favorite (4-1) in this year’s Apple Blossom. Also returning to run in this race again are Ollie’s Candy (12-1) and Street Band (15-1), who finished fourth and eighth respectively in last year’s 11 horse field.