04/13/2013 1:50PM

Oaklawn: La Troienne next target for Apple Blossom winner On Fire Baby

Tom Keyser
Trainer Gary Hartlage got the first Grade 1 win of his career with On Fire Baby in Friday's Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – On Fire Baby indicated she may be a force in this year’s older filly and mare division on Friday at Oaklawn Park when she won the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap in her first start at 4. For the effort, On Fire Baby earned a career-high Beyer Speed Figure of 101.

“I think she stepped right up in there with them,” said trainer Gary Hartlage. “We ought to have a pretty good year, I think. Not that we ain’t already had a pretty good year!”

Hartlage, 66, was jubilant the morning after winning the first Grade 1 of his career. On Fire Baby was bright and alert following her wire-to-wire win in the Apple Blossom, her first out since finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Acorn at Belmont Park on May 28. Hartlage said On Fire Baby will ship Monday to Churchill Downs, where she will be pointed to the Grade 2, $300,000 La Troienne on May 3.

During the Oaklawn meet, Hartlage had entered On Fire Baby in an allowance for her first start of the year. But it failed to fill and at that point, her connections decided to just await the Apple Blossom. Hartlage used a series of endurance works rather than speed drills to bring her up to the race, and said the results off such a long layoff are a testament to the quality of On Fire Baby.

“It takes a special horse to do that,” he said. “You just can’t do that with any ordinary horse off the block.”

Joe Johnson is the regular rider of On Fire Baby, who as a 2-year-old won the Grade 2 Pocahontas and Grade 2 Golden Rod at Churchill. The Apple Blossom was the first Grade 1 win of Johnson’s 23-year riding career, and it was also the first Grade 1 score as a breeder or owner for Anita Cauley.

:: Johnson suspended for Apple Blossom ride aboard On Fire Baby

Cauley, 52, has four broodmares, including On Fire Baby’s dam, Ornate, who foaled a full brother to On Fire Baby earlier this week. Cauley said she had tried to sell Ornate at auction following her racing career, but she just failed to reach her reserve.

“I say that the stars aligned for that,” she said.

Cauley at another point had debated whether to even continue breeding horses, following the death of her husband, Barry Ebert, in 2003.

“When he passed away, it took me a while to figure out whether that was something that we did together or whether it was something that I was passionate about,” Cauley said. “I would say it was probably High Heels being in the Oaks in 2007 that I just figured out that I loved it.”

Tiz Miz Sue was second by a half-length in the Apple Blossom, and emerged from the race in good order, said trainer Steve Hobby. Her next start is yet to be determined, he said. She will be based next at Churchill.

“She’s nominated to the [La Troienne],” Hobby said. “It’s probably back a little quicker. We’ll see how she is from here to there.”

Don’t Tell Sophia, who was third in the Apple Blossom, is scheduled to get a few weeks off at a farm in Kentucky, said her trainer, Phil Sims. He said in the next few months, he will start looking at stakes around the Midwest.

“We’ll take it easy on her this summer and get her ready for the fall, and then for here next year,” Sims said Saturday.

◗ The Arkansas Racing Commission on Saturday approved a 57-date for Oaklawn next year, from Jan. 10-April 12.