Head to Head: Handicapping the 2020 Apple Blossom

Head to Head: Handicapping the 2020 Apple Blossom
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

The Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) attracted a classy field of 14 older fillies and mares, including Grade 1 winners Serengeti Empress, Ollie’s Candy, Come Dancing, Street Band and Ce Ce.

Ashley Tamulonis of Horse Racing Nation's 
Coast To Coast blog and I sorted out the contenders from the pretenders.

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Grade 1 winner Ollie’s Candy was a non-threatening third in her 2020 debut behind fellow Apple Blossom entrant Ce Ce. A versatile sort, this mare is just a neck shy of being a top-level winner on both dirt and turf. I like the bullet she posted two works back and feel like trainer John Sadler has her ready to roll second off the layoff. You absolutely cannot discount her here.

Ollie’s Candy can be counted on to hit the board, at least in California. In her first start off the layoff, the Sadler trainee just ran around out there, never progressing from a distant third place, and finishing seven lengths behind Ce Ce. The rail spot will help, but Ollie’s Candy is just one of several in here who like to press the pace. I don’t think she’s good enough to win it, but should be considered for a lesser award. Exotics.


Now trained by Peter Eurton, Coldwater made a successful transition to dirt in her last start. Aside from that, there is nothing here to recommend her as a solid selection. Her speed figures simply do not fit with the best of the field. Pass.

The switch in surface and running style earned Coldwater an allowance victory in her last start. The daughter of Hold Me Back is jumping in class, shipping and making her first start for a new barn. Note that Eurton is 0-for-10 with newcomers to his barn. Pass.


Out of the esteemed Awesome Maria, Awe Emma has the pedigree to be a good one. Her training has been interrupted a couple of times over the course of her career, but this is a mare that loves Oaklawn, having put together a 6: 4-0-0 there. We were supposed to see her face Serengeti Empress in the Azeri, but apparently, Awe Emma did not feel like racing that day as she reared and dumped her jockey at the start. If not for the solidity of this large field, I would definitely back her. I am on the fence about using her in exotics, though ultimately, I probably will.

Awe Emma gets another shot at the big girls after throwing her rider at the start of the Azeri in March. Yes, Ashley, Awe Emma has dominated the optional claimers level at Oaklawn, but her speed figures aren’t all that.  Pass.


Off for more than five months, Come Dancing does her best running in sprints, where she posted a field0best 114 Brisnet. Speed Rating last year going seven panels. The 1 1/16-mile distance is within her scope, but this marks her first start around two turns. Off the layoff and with others in the field who are more experienced going longer, I believe I have to pass on Come Dancing here.

The sprint specialist Come Dancing has stretched out successfully in the past, and she certainly has the class. The versatile filly doesn’t need the lead and can mow them down in the stretch. I agree that 1 1/16 miles isn’t her best distance, but there may be a hot pace up front to aid her. D. Wayne Lukas temporarily takes over training duties for Carlos Martin Exotics.


This daughter of Curlin raced for the first time last month since running a solid second in the Alabama (G1) last summer. Her return came in a seven-furlong sprint, something she had never done before, having raced exclusively in mile-plus events throughout her short career. Moving back to two turns should be right up her alley, and with a race under her belt, she should be racing fit, as well. Definitely use for exotics.

Point of Honor tuned up for the Apple Blossom sprinting at Tampa. The classy filly has bested Street Band and Cookie Dough in the past. The only knock against her is that the George Weaver trainee seldom wins. However, if the expected hot pace develops her off the pace running style could move her up in the Apple Blossom.


Trained by Larry Jones, Street Band tends to be a hit or miss type. She is a Grade 1 winner but does not always show up with her “A” game. She was a distant fourth against similar in the Azeri. I really have no idea what to do with this filly. It all depends on what version shows up.

Street Band tried her best in the Azeri, but she just doesn’t like getting her hooves dirty. The Larry Jones trainee has a good race/bad race cycle back to last year, and she’s coming up on a “good” race. She’s one of the ones to beat. Win Contender.


Last out in the Royal Delta (G3), Queen Nekia encountered a good bit of trouble at the start and still managed a close third, beaten less than a length for it all. This will be a stiff class test, however, and I do not think Queen Nekia is up for it. Pass.

Queen Nekia proved that she could handle the bigger girls in the Royal Delta at Gulfstream, missing by just 3/4 length to Cookie Dough after getting a rail trip over the sloppy Gulfstream strip. According to Trakus, she and Cookie Dough ran the exact same times for the final fractions. Note that Queen Nekia missed second by a nose to Golden Award, who was moving faster in the final stages of the Royal Delta. Saffied Joseph Jr. has a 17% win and 50% in-the-money rate with his graded stakes horses over the last two years. Exotics.


While there was certainly no catching Serengeti Empress in the Azeri, Saracosa did make quite a move from the back of the field before getting out-kicked for second place. The splits were solid enough that she could have closed into the pace a bit better if Serengeti Empress had not been alone on the lead. I expect there to be more pace pressure this time around, giving this mare a better shot. Definitely include in your wagers.

Saracosa is a one-run closer without any real speed. Yes, Ashley, she closed down the lane in the Azeri, but she always hangs. A solid optional claimer type, Saracosa hasn’t won a race since 2018. If there’s a hot pace up front, maybe she can get up for a lower exotics award, but there are others in here I like better. Pass.


Trained by Richard Baltas, Horologist nabbed the Monmouth Oaks (G3) last summer but has not done much else since. Stepping back up into top company is not going to do her “W” column any favors. Pass.

Although she’s hit the board in 10 of 14 lifetime starts, Horologist hasn’t proven herself capable of running with graded stakes types. Pass.


Cookie Dough finally found her way back to the winner’s circle in her last start, a narrow triumph in the Royal Delta. She does not typically win but at least manages to hang on to snag a piece of the trifecta. With her in the field, Serengeti Empress will not be alone on the lead, setting this up to be a contentious pace. Exotics.

Cookie Dough meets up again with another “gotta have the lead” filly Serengeti Empress. The first time they met in the one-mile Acorn (G1), Cookie Dough chased  Serengeti Empress through :21.89 and :43.99 fractions before retreating to eighth place. The same thing could happen here, plus there is other speed in the race that could cook Cookie Dough. Exotics.


Who knows if the free galloping Awe Maria messed up the race strategy for the Azeri or if Serengeti Empress would have had things all her own way anyway, but that certainly will not be the case in the Apple Blossom. Joe Talamo is going to have to keep her relaxed, as there is speed to her inside and outside. Post 11 is certainly not advantageous, but class will tell. She is the one to beat, but I would not play her alone in the top spot with the talent she will be facing.

Serengeti Empress is happiest with an unpressured lead. The three times she’s been challenged in the stretch, she settled for a minor award. She’s a classy filly, but unless they let Talamo steal the race, I don’t see Serengeti Empress building a big advantage in the stretch. She’s also the field high weight of 122 pounds, four more than Cookie Dough. Although 122 pounds isn’t a lot of weight for a strong mare, she is giving away between one to 12 pounds to the rest. I’m with Ashley on this one: Exotics.



By Into Mischief, this mare won her 2020 debut by a neck in the Bayakoa (G3) and then skipped the Azeri. So far, she has been a solid Grade 3 type, and this may very well be outside her ability. Pass.

I think she’s ready to prove she can handle the jump in class. She is best as a pace presser but can sit farther back if necessary. The Paul McGee trainee is consistent and is 2-for-2   at Oaklawn. Exotics.


Now 4, Lady Apple bested Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress and fellow entrant Street Band in their seasonal debut in Texas but was nowhere to be seen when Empress crossed the line a dominant winner in the Azeri. That clunker ruined Lady Apple’s perfect record at the 1 1/16-mile distance and at Oaklawn Park. I’m inclined to put a line through the Azeri and give Lady Apple another shot here.

Lady Apple was another who didn’t like dirty hooves in the Azeri Stakes. Toss her starts over a sloppy track, and she has an excellent record. She’s another who can sit off the pace and show up in the stretch. Win Contender.

14. CE CE

Lightly raced Ce Ce made just three starts as a 3-year-old in 2019. She did not race for the remainder of the year after running fourth in the Acorn (G1) in June. She returned in February better than ever, posting a win in allowance company before mildly upsetting the Beholder Mile (G1). The far outside post should not be too much of a disadvantage as she will not be one looking to be on the pace.

Ce Ce is just a short neck from being undefeated at Santa Anita. Her trip to Big Sandy resulted in the worst finish of her short career. Was it the fact that she was four-wide? Didn’t ship well? Or that she’s just a horse for course? I like that the Michael McCarthy trainee is making her third start off the layoff, and her Brisnet numbers have progressed. However, I wonder if she’ll handle the stretch out in distance and a wide trip, along with shipping.

Final Thoughts

Ashley:  Whew! This is a loaded renewal of the Apple Blossom. We’ve become so accustomed to seeing small fields in these higher-level events that it’s almost disconcerting to see a full field. What a delight for the bettors. Of course, that leaves me feeling a bit like playing darts because I can make a solid case for many in this field. I wish I could stare into my crystal ball and see how hot the pace will be, as that will make all the difference.

I expect Serengeti Empress and Cookie Dough to mix it up early, and anyone who goes with them will be toasted. Serengeti Empress can carry her speed, but Cookie Dough may be baked by the second call. The early fast fractions up front can set it up for a mid-pack or closer. On paper, there are several legitimate contenders for the win position, and as we know, it all comes down to the best trip and who feels like running. I was originally going to take a stand for the proven class of Lady Apple. She’s tangled successfully with Serengeti Empress and Street Band, but I don’t like post 13, so I settled on Come Dancing for the win. I like the way she’s trained at Oaklawn.




#11 Serengeti Empress (4-1)

#4 Come Dancing (3-1)

#14 Ce Ce (7-2)

#5 Point of Honor (10-1)

#13 Lady Apple (15-1)

#13 Lady Apple (15-1)

#1 Ollie’s Candy (12-1)

#6 Street Band (15-1)

Meet Laurie Ross

 HRN Pedigree Analyst 


 Published Author

 Pedigree Research/Consultation/Sales 

 ThoroFan Board Member

 Member – NTWAB

Through hands-on work at barns, I learned valuable lessons about Thoroughbred conformation, gait, and temperament and later worked withThoroughbred rescue/re-train organizations. I have committed my passion for horses to the intensive study of pedigree and breeding theory for the last 20 years. 

I support clients with all aspects of pedigree/breeding analysis, research, sales, catalogue review, and recommendations on claims or private sales. Clients include national leading owners, racing/breeding syndicates, the little guy with one mare, and everyone in between. 10-20% of all proceeds are donated to Thoroughbred rescue & retraining groups. Check out my website, Iron Maidens Thoroughbreds, and the IMTBreds blog.

I welcome your questions regarding pedigree, handicapping, and breeding. If you would like me to cover a specific topic, please contact me. 

Twitter: @IMTBreds
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LinkedIn: Laurie Ross

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