Apple Blossom & Count Fleet Stakes

Compiled by Robert Yates

Contact: Chris Ho, Vice President of Marketing,, 501-623-4411 ext. 4201

Saturday, April 13, 2024

ADARE MANOR - Photo Credit: Coady Media
Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) - 60th Running

SKELLY - Photo Credit: Coady Media
Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) - 51st Running

HOT SPRINGS, AR - Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is perfect in two career starts in Oaklawn’s signature two-turn race for older fillies and mares.

Heavily favored Adare Manor used a dazzling display of speed to score a 5 ½-length victory over Flying Connection in the $1.25 million G1-Apple Blossom Handicap before an estimated crowd of 38,000 Saturday afternoon at Oaklawn.

Adare Manor, who was ridden by Juan Hernandez, ran 1 1/16 miles over a fast track in a meet-best 1:42.48. She carried top weight of 123 pounds. Adare Manor ($3.40) maintained a comfortable lead through fractions of :23.68, :46.95 and 1:11.14 for 6 furlongs. She opened a four-length lead in midstretch.

Flying Connection, who went off 26-1, finished three-quarters of a length ahead of Louisiana-bred millionaire Free Like a Girl (58-1). Shotgun Hottie, who finished fourth, was followed, in order, by Taxed, millionaire Grade 1 winner Wet Paint, Bellamore, Misty Veil and Honor D Lady.

Baffert also won the Apple Blossom in 2012 with Plum Pretty. He has a record 20 victories in what is now Oaklawn’s four-race Kentucky Derby points series, including the $1.5 million G1-Arkansas Derby (March 30 with Muth. The Arkansas Derby was the richest race in Oaklawn history. The Apple Blossom, previously worth $1 million, equaled the second-richest race in Oaklawn history.

The Apple Blossom was the first victory outside California for Adare Manor, a 5-year-old daughter of champion Uncle Mo who is owned by Michael Lund Petersen. She was purchased for $375,000 at the OBS June sale of 2-year-olds in training and horses of racing age. She has an 8-5-0 record from 16 lifetime starts and earnings of $1,736,600. She went off 3-5 in the Apple Blossom.

Adare Manor won five consecutive races last year, including the $400,000 G1-Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at 1 1/16 miles Aug. 5 at Del Mar, before finishing seventh, beaten three lengths, in the $2 million G1-Breeders’ Cup Distaff at 1 1/8 miles Nov. 4 at Santa Anita. In her only other start this year, Adare Manor finished second, beaten three-quarters of a length, in the $300,000 G1-Beholder Mile March 9 at Santa Anita.

Racing resumes with a nine-race card Sunday beginning at 12:30 p.m. (CDT)

WINNING JOCKEY (JUAN HERNANDEZ/ADARE MANOR): “(Trainer Bob Baffert) had her ready today. They had a lot of confidence in her. I just felt it right away when I jumped on her. She was so calm and she was ready to run great. She loves a mile and a sixteenth. If you saw her, she’s huge. She’s really a big filly, so she needs a lot of distance in her races.”

WINNING TRAINER (BOB BAFFERT/ADARE MANOR): “Her first (2024) race (Beholder Mile), the horse that beat her (Sweet Azteca) was a nice horse. It was a little bit short for her. But today, she was ready to move forward. She needed to run that way. I just love the way she’s been training this year. A little freshening helped her. I’m just proud to have so many nice horses. It’s a blessing. To go there with Muth (won Arkansas Derby March 30 at Oaklawn) and then with her, I’m just blessed to have all these good horses. I’m proud of all of them. And when they run like that, it just makes you feel so much (better), especially her. She’s like a real favorite around the barn. She’s a sweetheart.”


Jet lag? Maybe just an instant.

The freakishly fast Skelly, after breaking third, rocketed to the front under regular rider Ricardo Santana Jr. and never looked back in Saturday’s six-furlong $500,000 G3-Count Fleet Sprint Handicap for older horses.

Making his first start since his winning streak was snapped during a February trek to the Middle East, heavily favored Skelly finished three lengths clear of late-running millionaire Tejano Twist. It was another 1 ½ lengths farther back to third-place finisher Happy Is a Choice, who chased Skelly through blistering splits of :21.52 for a quarter-mile and :43.88 for a half-mile. Happy Is a Choice was followed, in order, by Ryvit, Jaxon Traveler, Perfect Dude and I’m Wide Awake. Code Five was a late scratch.

Skelly (3-5) covered six furlongs over a fast track in a meet-best 1:08.82. He packed top weight of 125 pounds.

Skelly ($3.40) also won the 2023 Count Fleet, which marked his third consecutive victory. Skelly stretched the winning streak to seven in the $150,000 King Cotton Stakes for older sprinters Feb. 3 at Oaklawn. It ended with a runner-up finish in the $1.5 million G3-Riyadh Dirt Sprint over 1,200 meters Feb. 24 in Saudi Arabia.

Skelly represented the record-extending seventh Count Fleet victory for Santana and the record-extending sixth for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.

A 5-year-old gelded son of Practical Joke, Skelly has a 9-4-0 record from 14 lifetime starts and earnings of $1,460,163. Skelly is a five-time stakes winner. He also won the $150,000 Lake Hamilton Stakes for older horses last May at Oaklawn.

Skelly races for Chris Hicks (Red Lane Thoroughbreds LLC), who purchased the gelding for $250,000 at the 2020

Fasig Tipton Selected Yearlings Showcase sale.

WINNING JOCKEY (RICARDO SANTANA JR./SKELLY): “Actually, I was really worried about that (breaking slowly) because I’m a human. I took the plane over there (Middle East) and I came back and slept for a whole week. That’s a long way to go for a horse. I saw the horse Thursday. He went to the gate. He looked good. You can still see how good he is, coming from Saudi. He went :21, :43, :56, 1:08. Such a nice horse.

WINNING TRAINER (STEVE ASMUSSEN/SKELLY): “(A half-mile) in :43 4/5, my heart was beating, but then goes (1:08 4/5). What a special horse. So happy to have him back here at Oaklawn. He loves it as much as we do – in the winner’s circle where he belongs.”

SECOND-PLACE JOCKEY (CRISTIAN TORRES/TEJANO TWIST): “He ran the race that we wanted. I know they were rolling in front. For this kind of pace, he has the right running style. It’s perfect. Just let him do his thing at the beginning. When I asked him, he responded pretty well. He was closing. Skelly’s too fast. Nobody can go with him. I think he went in like :43 (for a half-mile). Right now, there’s no other horse that can go that fast. But we’re really happy with our horse’s effort.”

THIRD-PLACE TRAINER (JOHN ORTIZ/HAPPY IS A CHOICE): “You get a good effort and a horse that comes back sound, it’s a win. It’s always a win. Today was the day I thought we could beat Skelly. He’s a monster. Congratulations to all of them. He’s a great horse. Our horse is only getting better. He’s just started improving. It’s the first time we actually had the horse run through the whole race. He’s had it easy the last couple of races. You move forward from here.”