04/06/2010 12:00AM

Champ will face only four in Apple Blossom


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - It was all about Zenyatta on Tuesday at Oaklawn Park, where she arrived late morning and shortly afterwards drew post 4 in a field of five for the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom. The 1 1/8-mile race for fillies and mares will be run Friday.

Zenyatta, the champion older mare who is undefeated in 15 starts, will be ridden by Mike Smith. Her competition includes Grade 3 winners Just Jenda, War Echo, and Be Fair, while Taptam, a stakes winner at the meet, was a surprise entrant. As for the setting of the field itself Tuesday, there was little drama in the draw for Zenyatta.

"I think because she comes from off the pace, it's not that big a deal," said John Shirreffs, who trains Zenyatta.

The Apple Blossom was looking like it might be the first matchup of Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra, the reigning Horse of the Year, earlier this meet after Oaklawn president Charles Cella offered to boost the purse to $5 million if the two were in the gate Friday.

But last month, the connections of Rachel Alexandra announced she would bypass the race. As a result, the Apple Blossom purse reverted to its original level. In another change, weight allowances were given to nonwinners of a Grade 1 stakes, and nonwinners of graded stakes. Zenyatta, who took the $5 million Breeder's Cup Classic in November, will tote top weight of 123 pounds under the allowance conditions Friday.

She will be attempting to tie Citation and Cigar's modern mark of 16 straight unrestricted wins when she runs. Peppers Pride, who retired last year with a 19-for-19 record, and Hallowed Dreams, who won 16 straight races, achieved some of their success in statebred stakes.

Zenyatta could get a nice setup, with the quick Be Fair getting the rail and Taptam and Just Jenda possibly pushing her along. Taptam, who was entered in the $100,000 Bayakoa here Wednesday, will scratch in favor of the Apple Blossom.

"The fields are very similar except for Zenyatta," said Taptam's trainer, Bret Calhoun. "We opted for the five-horse field for $500,000, instead of the six-horse field for $100,000."

The Apple Blossom from the rail, is Be Fair, Calvin Borel; Taptam, Cliff Berry; War Echo, Shaun Bridgmohan; Zenyatta; and Just Jenda, Terry Thompson.

The race goes as the 10th of 11, with a post of 6:25 p.m. Central. The forecast for Friday calls for sunny skies and a high of 73 degrees.