04/11/2012 2:48PM

Oaklawn: Plum Pretty tries to follow in footsteps of past Apple Blossom winners

Email
Barbara D. Livingston
Plum Pretty will face just four opponents as the favorite in Friday's Apple Blossom.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Havre de Grace’s owner, Rick Porter, paid Kentucky Oaks heroine Plum Pretty a high compliment last week when he cited giving her six pounds as one of the main reasons his Horse of the Year would pass on Friday’s Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park.

Havre de Grace’s defection indeed makes Plum Pretty the favorite, as well as the 117-pound starting highweight in the Apple Blossom. The race, to be run at 1 1/16 miles, is one of the chief stakes during Oaklawn’s annual Racing Festival of the South. The Apple Blossom is also one of the most important races on the calendar for fillies and mares, and since 2002 it has been won by Azeri, Zenyatta, and Havre de Grace during campaigns that earned them honors as Horse of the Year.

Plum Pretty will be making her first start of the year in Friday’s race, and she will face four others. Tiz Miz Sue won the local prep for the Apple Blossom, the Grade 3, $150,000 Azeri, in March. Absinthe Minded has won two of the three filly-and-mare route stakes so far this meet at Oaklawn. Twelve Twenty Two defeated a handful of Southern California shippers last out when romping by 12 lengths in the $100,000 Harry Henson at Sunland Park, and Holy Heavens, a stakes winner at Oaklawn who last year was second in the track’s Grade 2 Fantasy.

It’s an accomplished cast, but none can match the class of Plum Pretty as a Grade 1 winner who has earned more than $1.3 million. In addition to the Oaks, her wins last year included the Grade 2 Cotillion at Parx, a powerhouse race in which she set a strong pace and drew out to earn a career-high Beyer Figure of 108. Plum Pretty on Friday will be making her first start since the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic, the Nov. 4 race in which she set the pace and finished fifth. Peachtree Stable and trainer Bob Baffert freshened the filly over the winter and decided her first major objective at 4 would be the Apple Blossom.

“She’s really filled out,” said Baffert. “She’s a big, strong mare, with a lot of speed. She’s been working really, really well and hopefully, we have her tight enough.”

Baffert said ideally, he would have preferred for Plum Pretty to have had a start before the Apple Blossom.

“She had a little temperature one day, and I lost about five days of training with her,” he said. “But she came back and she looks good. She’s trained very, very well. She’s trained pretty steady.”

Rafael Bejarano has the mount from post 5.

Steve Hobby, who trains Tiz Miz Sue for Cresran, debated a start in the Apple Blossom and when Havre de Grace defected he opted to run. Tiz Miz Sue is weighted at 115 pounds, getting two pounds from Plum Pretty one start after putting up a career-high Beyer Figure of 102 in the Azeri.

“Baffert’s filly is a good, quality filly, a Grade 1 winner, and I thought if we’re ever going to beat her, it’s going to be on our home court, her first start of the year,” said Hobby. “I’m sure Bob has her ready, [but] there’s nothing like a race.”

Hobby feels Tiz Miz Sue, who last year ran third in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign at Saratoga, is sitting on her best year ever at the age of 5. She showed that in the Azeri, when she stormed home by three lengths under Joe Rocco Jr., who has the mount Friday.

“She settled beautifully,” said Hobby. “We thought she could do that if she would settle. Now, she has to do it again.”

Absinthe Minded finished fourth in the Azeri, but prior to that won both the $75,000 Pippin and $100,000 Bayakoa over Tiz Miz Sue. D. Wayne Lukas, who trains Absinthe Minded for Briland Farm, said he has stepped up the mare’s schedule for the Apple Blossom. In her final work, she went a bullet half-mile in 47.60 seconds April 9.

“It was very sharp,” said Lukas. “I think I was a little soft on her. You know, you have a tendency to treat them like your children. When they’re doing good, you love on them too much. So I told her I didn’t like her as much when she ran like that [in the Azeri], and so I said we’re going to change things.”

The Apple Blossom will go as the 10th race on an 11-race card. It has a post of 6:04 p.m. Central.

[APPLE BLOSSOM: Get PPs and wager on Friday's Oaklawn card]

Recent Apple Blossom winners

Year Horse Beyer
2011 Havre de Grace 108
2010 Zenyatta 95
2009 Seventh Street 100
2008 Zenyatta 104
2007 Ermine 101

Average winning Beyer: 106.91

Highest winning Beyer: Gorgeous (1990), 119

Lowest winning Beyer: Zenyatta (2010), 95

Apple Blossom Handicap (G1), Post Time: 6:04 CT Friday

Purse: $500,000; 1 1/6 mile

Post

Horse

Trainer

Jockey

ML Odds

1

Tiz Miz Sue

S. Hobby

J. Rocco, Jr.

2-1

1

Holy Heavens

J. Martin

R. Vasquez

20-1

1

Absinthe Minded

D. Lukas

T. Thompson

5-1

1

Twelve Twenty Two

H. Dominguez

C. Borel

6-1

1

Plum Pretty

B. Baffert

R. Bejarano

4-5