Champion Untapable and major stakes winner Gold Medal Dancer are among seven horses entered in Friday’s $600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1), one of the country’s most prestigious races for older fillies and mares. Probable post time for the 1 1/16-mile Apple Blossom is 5:10 p.m. (Central). It goes as the ninth of 10 races.
Untapable was the country’s champion 3-year-old filly last year when she won 6 of 7 starts, capping her campaign with a victory against older horses in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) Oct. 31 at Santa Anita. She was unbeatable against females last year (6 for 6), but, in her 2015 debut, was toppled by Gold Medal Dancer in the $300,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) March 14, the final major local prep for the Apple Blossom.
“We’re hoping for a good trip,” trainer Steve Asmussen said. “Nothing, but respect for the competition, and we need to run well.”
Untapable, the 1-2 program favorite, was assigned top weight of 121 pounds for the Apple Blossom. She is scheduled to break from post 2 under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez. She tracked Gold Medal Dancer throughout the 1 1/16-mile Azeri, but finished second, beaten a half-length, as the 1-9 favorite.
Asmussen said before the Azeri that Untapable wasn’t fully cranked coming off a 4 ½-month layoff. She figures to be much tighter Friday. The 4-year-old Tapit filly has recorded three workouts since the Azeri, including a jaw-dropping six-furlong move in company March 30 (1:10.80).
“I can’t remember anything here going that fast,” said Jim Hamilton, who has clocked workouts at Oaklawn since the mid-1980s.
Asmussen said following the breeze - Untapable’s major work for the Apple Blossom - that “she needed to do something” because she got a little tired in the Azeri, run over a waterlogged surface.
“She needs to run faster,” Asmussen said.
Gold Medal Dancer, who went wire-to-wire in the Azeri, is the 3-1 second choice in the program. She is scheduled to break from post 5 under Luis Quinonez and carry 117 pounds. Donnie K. Von Hemel, who trains Gold Medal Dancer, said he expects Untapable to be at the top of her game Friday.
“Untapable’s going to be faster this time,” Von Hemel said. “How much do we need to improve to be able to compete with her?”
Von Hemel said the addition of multiple stakes winner Sugar Shock could change the dynamics of the race. Sugar Shock, who was scratched from the Azeri because of the threat of rain, has shown good early speed throughout most of her career.
“Sugar Shocks adds a little pace to the race, maybe,” Von Hemel said. “It’s hard to say what she’s going to do, in that regard. She can add pace to the race, if she chooses to.”
But Von Hemel said Gold Medal Dancer, who recorded her biggest career victory in the Azeri, doesn’t need the lead to win. She tuned up for the Apple Blossom with a sparkling five-furlong bullet work (:59.20) March 28.
Call Pat, Pearl Turn, Diva’s Diamond and Glorys Last Chance are also entered.
Last year’s Apple Blossom winner, Close Hatches, won an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion older female of 2014. Overall, the race has been produced 17 champions, including three Horse of the Years – Havre de Grace, Zenyatta and Azeri – in its 56 year history.