04/03/2012 12:58PM

Oaklawn Park: Havre de Grace waiting on Apple Blossom weights

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Lynn Roberts/Hodges Photography
Havre de Grace is being pointed to the Grade 1 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – The Horse of the Year is in the house.

Havre de Grace arrived at Oaklawn Park from Fair Grounds on Monday afternoon and is scheduled to breeze here Saturday, trainer Larry Jones said. She is being considered for a start in the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap on April 13, with a final decision on her status to come after the weights for the race are released Saturday.

“We are waiting to see what the weights will be,” said Jones, whose main focus will be the spread in weights.

Havre de Grace, who races for Rick Porter, will be ridden by Ramon Dominguez if she runs in the Apple Blossom, Jones said. On Tuesday, the filly spent her first morning at Oaklawn since last season, coming onto the track first after the renovation break on a humid, overcast, 65-degree morning. She backtracked to the wire under exercise rider Robert Cline, then galloped a half-mile, the goal being to just stretch her legs, Jones said. Her work is scheduled to be over five furlongs.

“We’ll go Saturday, if the weather’s halfway fitting,” Jones said. “And she’ll have a walk day Sunday.”

Havre de Grace went 5 for 7 during her Horse of the Year campaign last year, among her wins the Apple Blossom, the Woodward over males at Saratoga, and the Beldame at Belmont Park. She also was fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Havre de Grace, 5, made her first start since the Breeders’ Cup on March 17 and handily won the $150,000 New Orleans Ladies at her winter base of Fair Grounds. The stakes came over 1 1/16 miles, the same distance as the Apple Blossom, and she earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 102.

From a historical prospective regarding Apple Blossom weights, Azeri, the Horse of the Year in 2002, kicked off her 2003 campaign in the race and was weighted at 123 pounds. She was coming off a win in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and in her prior start in a handicap had carried 127 pounds. Azeri won the Apple Blossom by a head over Take Charge Lady, who carried 118.

Azeri’s first Apple Blossom win came in 2002, at the age of 4, under 117 pounds. She came into the race off a win in the Grade 1 Santa Margarita at Santa Anita. Her third Apple Blossom win came in 2004, under 123 pounds. Havre de Grace registered the first Grade 1 win of her career in last year’s Apple Blossom, scoring by three-quarters of a length over Grade 1 winner Switch. Both toted 119.

Entries for the Apple Blossom will be taken next Tuesday. The handicap is part of the Racing Festival of the South, when Oaklawn groups a number of major stakes over the final week of its meet. This year, the festival has been condensed from six to four dates, with nine stakes worth $2,825,000 to be run from Wednesday, April 11 to Saturday, April 14.

Nakatani now riding at Oaklawn

Jockey Corey Nakatani, who rode last weekend in Dubai, has three mounts on Thursday’s card at Oaklawn. He is to ride here regularly through the end of the meet that closes April 14, said his agent, Ron Anderson, with the one exception being Saturday, when Nakatani will be in New York. On Thursday, the rider has two mounts for Steve Asmussen, the second-leading trainer at Oaklawn.

“Steve asked him to come in for a few days,” Anderson said. “He’s been riding a number of horses for him, so, he’ll stop off there, finish off the meet, then it’s off to New York.”

Anderson said Nakatani, who this winter rode in Southern California, would start riding at Belmont regularly April 15.

Nakatani a year ago came in to ride during the final stages of the Oaklawn meet and went 4 for 19 with his mounts and finished second in the Arkansas Derby with the Asmussen-trained Nehro. The year before, in 2010, Nakatani spent most of the meet at Oaklawn and won 49 races from 206 starts, for mount earnings of $1,173,587.

Nakatani on Thursday also has a mount for trainer Cody Autrey, and Anderson said he’s been fielding inquiries from other horsemen based at Oaklawn.

“I’ve got quite a bit of action the rest of the time, six, seven calls a day,” Anderson said.

2013 racing dates approved

Oaklawn will again race 56 dates in 2013 after receiving calendar approvals during an Arkansas Racing Commission meeting Saturday. Next year’s meet will open on Friday, Jan. 11 and run to April 13.

Oaklawn will race Thursday through Sunday most weeks, with special holiday Monday cards on Jan. 21 and Feb. 18. There also is Wednesday racing the final week of the meet, on April 10. In addition, Oaklawn will not race on Easter, March 31.

The biggest change is that Oaklawn will not have a four-day opening weekend as it did this year, when the meet started Jan. 13 and Martin Luther King Jr. Day fell on Jan. 16. The track instead will race five straight days its second week, with Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 21.

◗ Bret Calhoun, tied for 11th in trainer wins in North America, is nearing a milestone of 2,000 career victories. He was at 1,993 through Tuesday. Calhoun has a division at Oaklawn.

◗ Jockey Cliff Berry, who leads the current standings at Oaklawn, enters Thursday’s card two wins from career victory 4,000. Of his 3,998 wins, 3,889 have been aboard Thoroughbreds.