HOT SPRINGS, AR (Friday, April 16, 2021) – It took more than a decade, but Oaklawn has its “Race for the Ages” when champions Monomoy Girl and Swiss Skydiver meet in Saturday’s $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) for older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles.

The Apple Blossom headlines a 12-race card, with probable post time 6:09 p.m. (Central). It goes as the 11th race. First post Saturday is 12:02 p.m., with the infield open, weather permitting.

The projected six-horse Apple Blossom field from the rail out: Another Broad, Ricardo Santana Jr. to ride, 115 pounds, 10-1 on the morning line; Swiss Skydiver, Robby Albarado, 122, 2-1; Letruska, Irad Ortiz Jr., 118, 4-1; Chance to Shine, Ken Tohill, 114, 20-1; Getridofwhatailesu, Francisco Arrieta, 117, 6-1; and Monomoy Girl, Florent Geroux, 124, even money.

The Monomoy Girl-Swiss Skydiver matchup comes a little more than 11 years after the late Charles Cella, then Oaklawn’s owner, announced he would increase the Apple Blossom purse from $500,000 to $5 million if champions Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra met for the first time in the 2010 edition. Billed as the “Race for the Ages,” it fell through after Rachel Alexandra was beaten in her 2010 debut following a 2009 Horse of the Year campaign that saw her win all eight starts, including Oaklawn’s Fantasy Stakes and toppling males in the Preakness, traditionally the second leg of the Triple Crown. Rachel Alexandra also won an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion 3-year-old filly of 2009.

Zenyatta, in her return to Hot Springs, won the 2010 Apple Blossom to remain unbeaten in 16 lifetime starts and went on to Horse of the Year honors. She also won the 2008 Apple Blossom, which sparked her first of three consecutive Eclipse Awards for champion older female.

Finally, the Apple Blossom has a case of double vision. It’s champion vs. champion. Monomoy Girl won Eclipse Awards in 2018 (3-year-old filly) and 2020 (older dirt female). Swiss Skydiver won an Eclipse Award last year (3-year-old filly).

“It’s good for racing, I believe,” said jockey Robby Albarado, who will ride Swiss Skydiver. “You see on social media, everybody’s talking about it. This is what people want to see in racing. It’s exciting to have two queens meeting this early in the year.”

Monomoy Girl won her only meeting against Swiss Skydiver, capping a perfect 2020 campaign (4 for 4) in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) Nov. 7 at Keeneland. Swiss Skydiver, in her first start against older horses, finished seventh after stumbling badly at the start of the 1 1/8-mile race.

Both horses returned to win their 2021 debuts. Monomoy Girl took the $250,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3) Feb. 28 at Oaklawn to improve her lifetime record to 14 for 16. Swiss Skydiver was a sharp 2 ¾-length winner of the $300,000 Beholder Mile Stakes (G1) March 13 at Santa Anita.

Swiss Skydiver, who is eligibible for a $60,000 bonus for running Lasix free in the Apple Blossom, traveled the country in 2020, beating males in the Preakness, the third leg of the revamped Triple Crown, last fall at Pimlico after capturing the $500,000 Alabama Stakes (G1) at Saratoga, $200,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) at Gulfstream Park, $200,000 Santa Anita Oaks (G2) at Santa Anita and $400,00 Fantasy Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn.

“It should be a great race,” said Kenny McPeek, who trains Swiss Skydiver. “It kind of reminds me of when I brought Take Charge Lady here to face Azeri in the (2003) Apple Blossom. “We got beat like an inch. I just hope the outcome is different this time.”

Tactically, Swiss Skydiver possesses more speed than Monomoy Girl and drew just inside Mexican champion Letruksa, who finished second, beaten a head, in the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) March 13 at Oaklawn. The Azeri is the final major local prep for the Apple Blossom. The speedy Letruksa normally goes straight to the front in her races and could be a wire-to-wire threat if left alone on an easy lead.

“Swiss Skydiver runs well from the inside,” McPeek said. “We figure we would be ahead of Monomoy Girl and the speed is just to our outside. Robby will let her get into a good rhythm. He knows how to ride her.”

Monomoy Girl normally sits just off the pace in her races. Her trainer, Brad Cox, said he doesn’t believe the dynamics of the Apple Blossom are much different than the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Distaff, although the latter was a sixteenth of a mile farther and had 10 starters.

“We drew outside, which in Monomoy’s case, is probably a good thing,” Cox said. “She always seems to draw outside. It’s like crazy. We’re OK with that. I don’t think post or size of field is going to have a lot to do with it.”

Florent Geroux, Monomoy Girl’s regular rider, said he’s drawing a line through Swiss Skydiver’s performance in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff because of her trouble at the start.

“I’m not saying it cost her the race, but it definitely cost her a better placing,” Geroux said. “It would be nice to see everyone have a great trip and see who is the best horse at the end. You don’t like to beat someone when they have excuses.”

A victory by Monomoy Girl or stablemate Getridofwhatailesu would make Cox the first trainer to sweep Oaklawn’s four-race series of two-turn stakes for older fillies and mares in the same year. Sandwiched around the Bayakoa were victories by Getridofwhatailesu in the $150,000 Pippin Jan. 23 and Shedaresthedevil in the Azeri. The presence of Swiss Skydiver makes the stakes even higher Saturday.

“It’s great for racing,” Cox said. “I’m sure it will be the most watched race up to this point this year. I thought Charlatan-Knicks Go ($20 million Saudi Cup) was a big matchup. Didn’t work out on our end. I think from a national standpoint, aside from the Derby preps, it’s definitely the biggest race we’re probably going to watch for the first quarter of the year, first third of the year.”