Updated on 09/17/2011 9:09PM

Dream of Summer wins Apple Blossom

Shawn Coady/Coady Photography
Dream of Summer (inside) wins the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park by a neck.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Dream of Summer continued her pattern of stepping up to new challenges on Saturday, when, in her first start outside of California, she led throughout for a neck win in the Grade 1, $500,000 at Oaklawn Park.

Ashado was the 1-2 favorite in the mile and a sixteenth race and she finished fifth after pressing the pace in her first start since winning the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff. The Apple Blossom shared a card with the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap won by Grand Reward ($8.40), and attendance for the program was a meet-high 39,787.

Dream of Summer broke well in the Apple Blossom, and was up by a length and a half through an opening quarter in 23.79 seconds. She proceeded to lead the field through a half-mile in 47.17 seconds, with a fresh Ashado pushing things along in second, and cutting into the lead of Dream of Summer.

On the far turn, the pair raced together, covering six furlongs in 1:11.04, and in the stretch Dream of Summer began to edge away from Ashado, then held off a late run from Star Parade. Dream of Summer covered the distance over a fast track in 1:43.86.

"The second jump out of the gate, I opted to get the lead," said Pat Valenzuela, who rode Dream of Summer. "She relaxed easily down the backside, doing that well within herself. When the favorite came to her, I knew I had a lot of filly under me. She responded when I asked her."

Dream of Summer won for the eighth time in 13 starts and the $300,000 she earned Saturday pushed her bankroll to $844,650. Juan Garcia trains Dream of Summer for her breeder, James Weigel.

Dream of Summer did not start her career until she was 4, but won her debut. A few races later she won her stakes debut in the Grade 2 A Gleam Handicap at Hollywood Park last July. Dream of Summer came into the Apple Blossom on the heels of a second-place finish in her Grade 1 stakes debut, which came in the Santa Margarita at Santa Anita on March 12.

Garcia said a next race option for Dream of Summer is the Grade 2, $300,000 Louisville Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs on May 6.

Shadow Cast rallied for third in the Apple Blossom, finishing a half-length behind Star Parade. It was another length and a quarter back in fourth to Island Sand, who finished a nose in front of Ashado.

John Velazquez rode Ashado, the 3-year-old champion filly of 2004.

"She was feeling great," said Velazquez. "She ran a big race. I think she just got a little tired late in this race."

The Apple Blossom helped open the Racing Festival of the South, a cluster of nine stakes run over the last six days of the Oaklawn meet. Handle on the 12-race card Saturday was $7,900,675, with $2.6 million of that amount bet on track at Oaklawn.

* A special double linking the Apple Blossom and Oaklawn Handicap paid $40.20. The winning numbers were 4-2.