This Saturday at Oaklawn Park, we'll witness the 56th running of the $1 million Apple Blossom Stakes (G1).
Some of Racing's greatest fillies and mares graced this contest. The 2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta won it twice, 2002 Horse of the Year AZERI won it three times.
Even without a Horse of the Year presence in this year's edition, the excitement is all the same, if not more. We've got two superstar mares crossing paths while the top of their game: the dual Breeder's Cup Distaff (G1) champion MONOMOY GIRL, up against Preakness Stakes (G1) heroine SWISS SKYDIVER.
The last time they met, it was five months ago in the 2020 Breeder's Cup Distaff. SWISS SKYDIVER was compromised by terrible stumble at the start, and their highly anticipated duel never materialized.
Well, both have been rested and brought back for their 2021 campaigns. Both have won their comeback races, and are sharp and ready to compete. We could be witnessing a race for the ages. Which of them gallops away the victor? Or will there be an upset? Let's take a look at the probable field:
MONOMOY GIRL — Trained by Brad Cox
SWISS SKYDIVER — Trained by Ken McPeek
LETRUSTKA — Trained by Fausto Gutierrez
ANOTHER BROAD — Trained by Steve Asmussen
GETRIDOFWHATAILSYOU — Trained by Brad Cox
CHANCE TO SHINE — Trained by Chris Hartman
So far, five fillies and mares are probable for the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Stakes, run at one mile and one-sixteenth over the dirt.
MONOMOY GIRL puts her six-race winning streak on the line, when she makes just her second start off a layoff. The 6-year-old mare is a 7-time Grade 1 winner and should be the morning line favorite. Note that she's won 4 out of 6 times going this one mile and one-sixteenth distance. Her only two losses were second-place finishes.
MONOMOY GIRL was last seen winning the Bayakoa Stakes (G3) back in February 28th at Oaklawn Park, which was run on a sloppy track. Yet she won clearly and decisively, in good time too: 1:45.92. She earned an Equibase Speed Figure of 108 for that comeback effort. Last year's Apple Blossom Stakes required a 105 from its winner.
In preparation for this race, MONOMOY GIRL worked at Oaklawn Park on April 11th, 2021, breezing four furlongs in 47.60, the 4th fastest of 80 works at that distance. She's been training consistently since her last victory, and will aim to improve her record to 15 wins, 2 seconds, from 17 starts. Talk about class and consistency!
Three-time Grade 1 winning SWISS SKYDIVER looms a formidable opponent. The newly turned 4-year-old filly by DAREDEVIL is bigger and faster than she was last year, which is scary. She's well rested after a warrior-esque 2020 campaign, wherein she competed in nine graded stakes races, while defeating the boys in the Preakness Stakes. And it wasn't just any group of boys; she defeated eventual Breeder's Cup Classic (G1) hero AUTHENTIC, who later won Horse of the Year honors.
SWISS SKYDIVER was last seen running in the Beholder Mile Stakes last month at Santa Anita. She earned an Equibase Speed Figure of 110, which is superb for a comeback race. She, too, is making her first start off a layoff and should be sharper this time around. She's already won over the Oaklawn Park track back in May 2020 in the Fantasy Stakes (G3), and is 3 for 4 competing at one mile and one-sixteenths.
Both SWISS SKYDIVER and MONOMOY GIRL match up on the surface, distance, and track they've had success in. MONOMOY GIRL will carry the top weight of 126lbs, two pounds heavier than SWISS SKYDIVER at 122lbs, to which SWISS SKYDIVER's trainer Ken McPeek commented: "Fair enough".
The stage is set!
Is she ready? Trainer Ken McPeek seems to think so. No, that's a mild statement — he is ultra confident with his filly's chances! After SWISS SKYDIVER breezed five furlongs at Churchill Downs on April 10th, 2021, an article came out shortly after, capturing his reaction.
"We're coming with a beast." McPeek said (HorseRacingNation.com)
An interesting contender is LETRUSKA for trainer Fausto Gutierrez. After her last effort in the Azeri Stakes last month at Oaklawn Park, she warrants respect. Period. She was tasked with running down the talented filly SHEDARESTHEDEVIL, who was permitted an uncontested lead throughout the race. LETRUSKA finished second, but ran brave in defeat. She was only a head bob behind the final time of 1:42.57 for the one mile and one-sixteenth. She earned an Equibase Speed Figure of 111 for that effort, showing she can very well run with the top two.
Rounding out the "probables" field are: CHANCE TO SHINE, ANOTHER BROAD, and GETRIDOFWHATAILESU.
CHANCE TO SHINE and ANOTHER BROAD are both seeking redeeming efforts from off-the-board finishes in the Bayakoa Stakes. GETRIDOFWHATAILSU seeks to improve off her 3rd place finish in the Azeri Stakes. They'll need to make huge jumps forward to be competitive against the top three.