Ten Things You Should Know: Apple Blossom Handicap
By Kevin Martin, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor
1) The Apple Blossom Handicap is a Grade 1 stakes race for fillies and mares 4-years-old and up at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas. In recent years, the Apple Blossom has been the Friday feature during the Racing Festival of the South, a series of four straight days of major stakes that ends the annual meet at Oaklawn.
2) The Apple Blossom was first run in 1958, for 3-year-olds. The race returned to the calendar in 1963 and was opened to older horses until 1972. The race was restricted to older females, its current condition, for the first time in 1973. It has been raced at over 1 mile since 1975 and its current distance of 1 1/16 miles since 1980.
3) Three of the last four females to win the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year won the Apple Blossom. Azeri, Zenyatta, and Havre de Grace all won the race during their championship campaigns.
4) Five members of the United States Racing Hall of Fame won the Apple Blossom during their careers: Susan’s Girl (1975), Bold ‘n Determined (1981), Bayakoa (1998), Paseana (1992, 1993), and Azeri (2002, 2003, 2004).
5) Halo America finished second in 1995 and 1996 before winning the Apple Blossom in 1997. In 1995, she finished in front of future Hall of Famer Paseana. In 1996, she beat another Hall of Famer, Serena’s Song, who finished third. When she won the race in 1997, she beat reigning Eclipse winner in the older female division, Jewel Princess.
6) In 1975, Susan’s Girl became the first Eclipse champion to win the Apple Blossom. It was the one and only trip to Oaklawn in her stellar 63 race career. Susan’s Girl won the Eclipse Award for older female in 1973 and 1975.
7) The Eclipse winner for older female in 1989 and 1990, Bayakoa, won the Apple Blossom in 1989. She is the first filly to win the Apple Blossom and Breeders’ Cup Distaff in the same year. She also won the Distaff in 1990. In 1993, Oaklawn Park named a stakes race in her honor.
8) In 1986, Lady’s Secret, the daughter of Secretariat, finished second to Love Smitten, who carried eight pounds less than the future Hall of Famer and finished just one-fifth off the track record for the distance. It was the first of only two losses against females for Lady’s Secret during her 1986 campaign that earned her the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year.
9) In February 2010, Oaklawn Park president Charles Cella announced a $5 million purse for the Apple Blossom if the owners of superstars Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta ran in the race. Both owners committed to run a few days after the announcement. In March, Rachel Alexandra lost her 4-year-old debut at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans and she was pulled from consideration for the Apple Blossom. In spite of the reduced purse, Zenyatta still shipped to Oaklawn and won the 2010 edition.
10) Mike Smith has won six editions of the race on three different fillies. He won his first in 1994 aboard Nine Keys. He won three aboard Azeri (2002-2004) and two with Zenyatta (2008, 2010).