Apple Blossom Handicap (Grade 1)- $600.000 Purse
OP- For Fillies and Mares Four Years Old and Upward
One Mile and One Sixteenth on the Dirt
April 14, 2017
Here they go again! In an era within our game where you will often find threads and posts about a lack of great horses having long sustained careers, leading to the lack of longstanding rivalries, it is truly remarkable, considering they are fillies, what is going on between Wicked Heat and Notarized Kate. They have been going head to head since they were young two year olds at the highest of levels. While Notarized Kate always runs her best when Wicked Heat is in the starting gate with her, it does seem as though Wicked Heat has gotten the better of Notarized Kate. But, did the tide turn last month at SA in the Santa Margerita? We shall see. This introduction to this race should not be interpreted as me shortchanging the rest of the field, nor that I am implying that there are not other horses equally as dominant. Way Up may be better then both of them. It’s just special to see a rivalry, because that’s what horse racing, real or virtual, needs. Here is our field of eight!
#1- Wicked Heat (EasyMoney Stables, ridden by G L Stevens)- Also on the card on Friday is the Fantasy, the final chance to get into the KYO for this year. The KYO is a sweet memory for Wicked Heat, who won that race last year. Later on, of course, and I will never get tired of mentioning this rare fact: she would win the BC Distaff, making her the only female to win both of those races. Since the Distaff, the results have not been there, but she did have a couple cold races in the summer last year, and rebounded nicely. Don’t give up on her yet! Seemed like she was too far back early in the Santa Margerita.
#2- Mint Condition (John Henry, ridden by R Bejarano)- Winner of her last race, the Grade 2 Royal Delta down at GP. It was the first win in two tries for new trainer John Henry after purchasing her from Australia Wide. As a three year old, she raced pretty heavily with the ON-bred condition, including taking on the boys in the $500.000 Prince of Wales. She has won her last two starts when going exactly today’s distance.
#3- Way Up (Team 7 Illusions, ridden by Mario Gutierrez)- Way Up is starting get herself involved in the Wicked Heat and Notarized Kate rivalry to make it a threesome, but it just does not go as far back with her when compared to those two. Her nine race career has seen her win over $1,200.000, highlighted by wins in the Cotillion and the HOU Ladies Classic, as well as running second in the BC Distaff. All those races, plus the Santa Margerita, were against Wicked Heat and Notarized Kate. Her overall form since the summer should make her the most conservative choice in this race amongst the top three.
#4- Notarized Kate (Pristine Stables, ridden by J R Leparoux)- In her last race, she picked up a big win the in the Santa Margerita, and it was extra special with Wicked Heat also in the race. That victory saw her career earnings top $2,600.000. It was a dead heat victory with The Hanging Tree that day, but that one will not be in this race. Since her third place run in the BC Distaff, Notarized Kate seems to be on the top of her game, and there is no reason to think that will stop here. Expect her to be at her best and hopefully we get a thrilling stretch battle between her and Wicked Heat.
#5- Drill (Mb Stables, ridden by J L Ortiz)- As we move to the second half of the starting gate, we are going to mostly see Mb colors, but no hanging trees. Drill has won four of 14 career starts, and her most recent win was last month in the $150.000 Heavenly Prize at AQU last month. That race also came after a four and a half month layoff, so if anything else, we know that Drill is well rested here. I’d like to see her follow that up well though, and she gets a chance now. The big story here is her weight, which includes her carrying six fewer pounds then Notarized Kate.
#6- Retaliator (Mb Stables, ridden by R J Albarado)- A winner of six out of 10 career races, and only one time has she ever failed to hit the board. I like her racing style, either going right on the lead, or more often, stalking the leaders, and I think that will always lead to success for her. A couple top contenders here might be looking to come from behind her, so she’ll have to be at her best in the stretch. Looked good in her last outing, a second place finish in the HOU Ladies Classic. Like her stablemate, she also benefits from being one of the lower weights. Taking that into consideration, I think she might sneak away with a win.
#7- Make It Known (Mb Stables, ridden by M E Smith)- Spent the majority of her 12 race career running in allowances and optional claimers, before being brought up to the graded level for the Bayakoa (G3) right here at OP, and she was sharp in picking up the victory. Her race lines look very similar of late, so we can get idea of how she probably wants to run. It could be a pace that suits her well but she has never tried to hold off Wicked Heat or Notarized Kate in the stretch, before.
#8- Frenched Rose (Maxmillion Farm, ridden by J R Velazquez)- She has raced at this level once, but that was a real long time ago. Most recently, we have seen Frenched Rose in allowances, and by virtue of winning her last two starts in them, she is getting this chance to take on some of the best that her division has to offer. I must say that I am particularly impressed with the way she won her last race, and I would not expect to see a tactical change for her here from being the type that wants to get out on the lead. Velazquez will just have to ride her smart, as there will be challenges coming from behind in the stretch.