04/03/2009 11:00PM

Two fillies on the cusp of stardom

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - A year after Zenyatta announced she was something special by upsetting champion Ginger Punch in the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park in just her fourth start, the Grade 1, $500,000 race has drawn two fillies brimming with upside, Acoma and Seventh Street.

A win by either would catapult them up the division's ranks, and validate the potential their trainers see in them. Acoma, a multiple graded stakes winner, will be favored to get the job done on Saturday.

"To me, she's top class," said trainer David Carroll. "She's always exhibited top-class attributes and at this time is putting it all together."

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin has the same kind of regard for the Darley-owned Seventh Street, who was purchased for $1 million as a 2-year-old in training at Fasig-Tipton in 2007. She made her stakes debut in her last start, and finished a troubled second in the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie at Laurel.

"We feel like she's a top filly, a Grade 1 filly," said McLaughlin.

Both horses will have their chance to prove it in the Apple Blossom, a 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares that will share a card with the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap. The races open up the annual Racing Festival of the South, when nine stakes worth a cumulative $2.8 million will be run over the final week of the meet. The season closes next Saturday with the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby.

Acoma leads a five-horse field that lost a key player on Tuesday when champion Proud Spell was withdrawn from consideration because of some swelling in her left hind ankle. In addition to Acoma and Seventh Street, the field consists of Superior Storm, a multiple stakes winner of $500,000 who won an allowance over the comebacking Proud Spell last month at Oaklawn; French Kiss, the winner of the $50,000 Pippin in February; and Color Me Up, a Grade 2-placed runner for trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

But none can match the performance Acoma turned in March 8 in the Grade 3, $150,000 Azeri at Oaklawn. In her first start since winning the Grade 2 Mrs. Revere on turf at Churchill Downs on Nov. 8, she overcame being squeezed back at the start to win the 1 1/16-mile race going away. Acoma earned a career-best 100 Beyer Figure.

"Just to see her do that, obviously in the manner she did it, off a four-month layoff, back on dirt, is just telling me she's everything I think she is," Carroll said of Acoma, who is a half-sister to Grade 1 winner Arch and whose second dam, Althea, won the Arkansas Derby in 1984.

Seventh Street's last race had a lot of people talking, too. Usually a front-runner, she encountered significant trouble at the start as the odds-on favorite in the Barbara Fritchie and came rolling from more than 12 lengths back for second in the seven-furlong race, run Feb. 14.

"She absolutely reared up straight in the air and missed the break by five lengths or more," said McLaughlin.

"I'd like to see her break well and things go smooth, and then she'll be forwardly placed because she's always been speedy and talented. I'd love to see her on an uncontested lead, but if she's laying third, that's okay."

Seventh Street, a daughter of Street Cry who has a black birthmark on her left hip area in the shape of the No. 7, will be making her second two-turn start Saturday.

"The distance is a little bit of a question mark, but she did win a mile in New York," said McLaughlin of an inner-track romp at Aqueduct in January.