04/15/2011 7:32PM

Oaklawn Park: Havre de Grace reels in Switch in Apple Blossom

Oaklawn Park/Coady Photography
Havre de Grace (left) drives to the lead under Ramon Dominguez in the Apple Blossom.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Havre de Grace overcame a modest pace to run down a determined Switch and become both a Grade 1 winner and millionaire Friday in the $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park.

Havre de Grace won by three-quarters of a length, while Switch was a clear second, finishing a length and a quarter in front of Absinthe Minded. The Apple Blossom continued the Racing Festival of the South, when Oaklawn groups a number of major stakes together over the final week of its meet. The season will wrap up on Saturday with the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby.

Havre de Grace ($3) settled in about four lengths behind Absinthe Minded, who set a controlled pace of 23.90 seconds for the opening quarter, 47.92 for the half-mile, and 1:11.99 for six furlongs. Havre de Grace began to advance approaching the final turn, moved to third in the upper stretch, then put in a determined bid to catch Switch, who had taken the lead an eighth of a mile from home. The fillies finished fast, with Havre de Grace, who was ridden by Ramon Dominguez, covering the mile and a sixteenth in a strong 1:42.19.

“The first part was a little slower that I thought maybe it would be,” said Larry Jones, who trains Havre de Grace for Fox Hill Farm. “The only concern I had was maybe they weren’t going fast enough with the lengths she had to make up.

“She had to make up four on Switch and that’s something you don’t like to give away. She’s not an easy horse to run down. I watched Zenyatta almost not run her down last year. But she responded and went well and Ramon said she galloped out real well.”

Miss Match and Belle Watling completed the order of finish in the Apple Blossom.
The win was a significant one for Havre de Grace, who had placed in a handful of Grade 1 races last year. The year-end goal for her is a return trip to the Breeders’ Cup, said Jones. Last year, she ran third in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic. In her first start since that race, Havre de Grace won last month’s Grade 3 Azeri at Oaklawn with a Beyer Figure of 105.

“This is a very top-quality mare,” said Jones.

Jones said one other probable objective for Havre de Grace is the Delaware Handicap.
She has now won 5 of 10 starts and $1,263,175. Prior ito the Apple Blossom, her biggest win had come in the Grade 2 Fitz Dixon Cotillion at Parx Racing, when she edged eventual champion Blind Luck.

There was a minus show pool of $36,373 in the Apple Blossom.

Bonde on stakes run

On the undercard Friday, trainer Jeff Bonde continued his stakes run by sending out Road Ready to take the $75,000 Bachelor. The horse closed into a hot pace and won by three-quarters of a length over Philippe. Road Ready, who was ridden by Joel Rosario, paid $10.

Bonde won the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap here Thursday with Smiling Tiger. And last weekend, he took the Grade 2 Providencia with Cambina. Bonde also won last month’s Grade 3, $800,000 Sunland Park Derby with Twice the Appeal. He will start Sway Away in the Arkansas Derby.

* Attendance at Oaklawn Friday was 20,176.

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