04/02/2008 12:00AM

Kettleoneup will be closing


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Kettleoneup's late run would be best suited by a strong pace Saturday when she makes her Grade 1 debut in the $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park. But it is questionable whether she will get the fractions she needs.

Her cause was hurt earlier this week by the defection of the front-running Hystericalady, which threatens to put champion Ginger Punch alone on the lead in the 1 1/16-mile race. However, things were looking somewhat better Wednesday, when trainer Don Von Hemel said that Clever Strike, a front-runner who was third last out in the Grade 3 Azeri Breeders' Cup, was a possible starter for the Apple Blossom.

In another Apple Blossom development Wednesday, Brownie Points, a stalker who was second in the Azeri, was committed to the race by her connections, Pin Oak Stable and trainer Donnie Von Hemel, who is Don's son. Expected starters Zenyatta and Nice Inheritance, who are both closers, bring the prospective field to six. It would grow to seven with Clever Strike. The additions might help produce some pace for Kettleoneup, who gained her biggest win in November in the Grade 2 Falls City at Churchill Downs.

"We'll just take what we get and do the best we can," said Mike Tomlinson, who trains Kettleoneup. "We really didn't have any pace in the Falls City. We've got to just let her run her race and see what happens."

Kettleoneup figures to start as third choice behind Ginger Punch and the undefeated Grade 2 El Encino winner Zenyatta. Kettleoneup is the lone prospective Apple Blossom starter to have won a race this meet, having overcome a slow pace for an impressive score in the $50,000 Pippin on Feb. 16. In her most recent out, Kettleoneup finished fourth to front-running winner Hystericalady in a the Azeri. Calvin Borel was aboard for both races.

Tomlinson acknowledges that Kettleoneup has a "home court advantage."

"And I mean that as far as surface and Calvin," Tomlinson said. "Calvin knows this track as well as anybody."

Kettleoneup races for her breeder, Tom Crouch, a prominent Standardbred horseman who is having an impact on Thoroughbred racing with a limited number of horses. Kettleoneup is one of two Thoroughbreds Crouch has in training, the other being recent Oaklawn maiden winner Gooseontherocks.

Crouch also bred Golden Hare, a half-brother to Kettleoneup who won 14 races last year to rank as the winningest Thoroughbred in North America in 2007. The now-deceased Bugs Rabbit is the dam of both Kettleoneup and Golden Hare.

"We claimed Kettle's mother," said Crouch. "A very good friend of mine, Susan Bunning, recommended that I claim her. I had a lot of fun with her, and I said, 'Gosh, I'll see if I can have any luck in the Thoroughbred business.'"

Kettleoneup also won the Grade 3 Sixty Sails Handicap last year. She has earned $639,901.

"We're having fun with a really good horse, and we'll just see how far we can go," Crouch said of Kettleoneup.

Crouch's accomplishments in the Standardbred industry include breeding both Staying Together, the Standardbred Horse of the Year in 1993, and Western Dreamer, who won the pacing Triple Crown in 1997. Both are in residence at the Kentucky Horse Park.

Dominguez on Ginger Punch

Ginger Punch will be ridden by Ramon Dominguez for the first time when she starts in the Apple Blossom. Her regular rider, Rafael Bejarano, has been sidelined since March 13, when he sustained fractures in two vertebrae in a spill. He is scheduled to return to action Saturday to ride Heatseeker in the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap.

The Apple Blossom will be the second start of the year for Ginger Punch.

"Ramon Dominguez is going to ride her that day," Frankel said. "[Bejarano] will actually be back that day, but I didn't know it at the time. I had committed to Ramon Dominguez."

Dominguez is dominating the standings in New York.

Horses arrive from California

Ginger Punch was one of six horses that flew in from Los Angeles on Wednesday for stakes engagements Saturday. She was joined on the flight by Zenyatta, also in for the Apple Blossom, and Buzzards Bay, Circular Quay, Heatseeker, and Tiago, all here for the Oaklawn Handicap.

The Apple Blossom and Oaklawn Handicap both will be run Saturday. They open the Racing Festival of the South, when 11 stakes worth $2.8 million will be run over the final six dates of the meet that ends April 12.

* Undercover Angel will be looking for her third win at the meet on Friday when she starts in the featured ninth race, a second-level allowance for fillies and mares. Luis Quinonez has the mount for trainer Steve Asmussen.

* Sebastian County breezed five furlongs in 1:01.40 here Wednesday in preparation a start in the $75,000 Northern Spur at a mile here Aprilo12, said his trainer, Don Von Hemel.