Taking On Pair Of Eclipse Award Winners, Maracuja Hoping For Homecourt Advantage In Apple Blossom - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Taking On Pair Of Eclipse Award Winners, Maracuja Hoping For Homecourt Advantage In Apple Blossom


Maracuja will try to parlay a homecourt advantage into her second career Grade 1 victory in the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap Saturday at Oaklawn for trainer Rob Atras.

The 1 1/16-mile Apple Blossom, among the country's biggest two-turn events for older fillies and mares, has only drawn a field of five. But two of the entrants, Letruska and Ce Ce, are Eclipse Award winners and two others, Clairiere and Maracuja, are Grade 1 winners.

“It's a small field, but it's got like a Breeders' Cup kind of feel to it,” Atras, a former assistant to 2020 Oaklawn training champion Robertino Diodoro, said Tuesday afternoon. “There's some very nice mares in there. It's a tough task to take on. It's a five-horse field, it's a million dollars. We've been there all winter with her, so rather than having to ship, we thought we'd take our shot where she's been training the last four or five months.”

The New York-based Atras has a small string at Oaklawn for the first time this year, headed by Maracuja, who recorded her biggest career victory to date in the $500,000 Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) for 3-year-old fillies last July at Saratoga, toppling, among others, eventual Eclipse Award winner Malathaat and Eclipse finalist Clairiere.

The late-running Maracuja has trained at Oaklawn since early January and scored a sharp two-length allowance victory in her 4-year-old debut April 1. The 1 1/16-mile race was Maracuja's first start against older horses and first start since a fourth-place finish in the $1 million Cotillion Stakes (G1) for 3-year-old fillies Sept. 25 at Parx.

Atras gave Maracuja the green light for the Apple Blossom – her major spring target – following half-mile works April 9 (:51.40) and April 15 (:48.40).

“I didn't really have any reason not to run her,” Atras said. “I was kind of surprised. It was quick back and we knew it was going to be a tall order to face those mares, but she just came out of the race so good and she'd been training so well. I gave her a couple of works relatively quick back and she handled them really well. She stayed in the feed tub and her energy stayed up, so those were kind of the deciding factors.”

Atras' Oaklawn string is overseen by assistant Jesse Sauder, who regularly gets on Maracuja in the morning.

The projected five-horse Apple Blossom field from the rail out: Maracuja, Ricardo Santana Jr. to ride, 119 pounds; 6-1 on the morning line; Letruska, Jose Ortiz, 124, 7-5; Clairiere, Joel Rosario, 121, 5-2; Miss Imperial, Tiago Pereira, 115, 12-1; and Ce Ce, Victor Espinoza, 121, 2-1.

Shippers Ce Ce and Letruska won the Apple Blossom in 2020 and 2021, respectively. Ce Ce captured an Eclipse Award as the country's champion female sprinter of 2021 and returns to Oaklawn after winning the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles March 12, the final major local prep for the Apple Blossom. Letruska was a 2021 Eclipse Award winner as the country's champion older dirt female and has been based most of 2022 in south Florida. Millionaire Clairiere returned to win the Cotillion and has spent most of 2022 training at Fair Grounds.

The Apple Blossom goes as the fifth of 12 races, with probable post time 2:18 p.m. (Central). Racing begins at 12:10 p.m. The infield will be open, weather permitting. Saturday's forecast calls for partly sunny skies and a high temperature of 81 degrees, according to weather.com.

Saturday's card also features the $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses at 1 1/8 miles and the $150,000 Oaklawn Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles.

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