03/15/2011 4:35PM

Oaklawn: Payton d'Oro returns in tough spot, preps for Apple Blossom

Jeff Coady/Coady Photography
Payton d'Oro will make her first start since last year's Bayakoa in an optional claimer Thursday at Oaklawn Park.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Oaklawn is putting on two preps for the Apple Blossom this week. The glamour race is Saturday, when champion Blind Luck meets Havre de Grace in the Grade 3, $150,000 Azeri. The prelude is Thursday, with Grade 2 winners Payton d’Oro and Distinctive Dixie returning from layoffs in a $50,000 optional claimer for fillies and mares at a mile.

The race will be the first since November for Distinctive Dixie, who won last fall’s Grade 2 Chilukki at Churchill Downs. Payton d’Oro, meanwhile, has not seen action since last meet at Oaklawn, when she won the $100,000 Bayakoa over Distinctive Dixie. The field of six also includes Punta Ballena, who was third in the Bayakoa, and Decelerator, who has won a pair of one-mile stakes at Oaklawn.

“It’s a tough race,” said Larry Jones, who trains Payton d’Oro for Mike Pressley and Edward Taylor. “The top three finishers from last year’s Bayakoa are right here in this allowance. And you’ve got [Decelerator]. So, this is like a stakes here.

“It’s going to be a tough spot coming off the shelf, but Distinctive Dixie is doing the same thing. A lot of us are in that same boat. So, we’ll see. It’s going to be a whale of a prep for the Apple Blossom.”

Payton d’Oro has not raced since April 7, in the Bayakoa. She later proceeded to the auction ring in a move that restructured her ownership.

“That was the reason she didn’t [immediately] come back into training,” Jones said.

As it turned out, the time off served her well. Jones said Payton d’Oro, winner of the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan in 2009, is training better than ever. She breezed five furlongs in 1:00.20 in her final prep March 8, and the move was the second fastest of 32 at the distance. The bullet went to her workmate, Havre de Grace, who in her last start was third in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic.

Payton d’Oro will break from post 5, under Terry Thompson.

Distinctive Dixie will be cutting back to the distance of her Chilukki score after finishing sixth as the favorite in the Grade 2 Falls City at 1 1/8 miles at Churchill on Nov. 25. She has won mile races at both one and two turns and shows a series of forward works for trainer Wally Dollase. Gabriel Saez has the mount.

◗ There is a $38,947 pick-six carryover.