Maracuja Hoping to Use Homecourt Advantage in Apple Blossom

Maracuja and Jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr.

Photo credit: Coady Photography

Maracuja Hoping to Use 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

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.

Purse Increased for the Trail’s End

The purse of Oaklawn’s final race of the 2021-2022 race meet, the traditional Trail’s End starter allowance race, has been increased from $75,000 to $125,000. Closing day is Sunday, May 8.

The Trail’s End is for 3-year-olds and older who have started for a claiming price of $10,000 or less during the meet and is run at 1 1/16 miles.

Jackie’s Back

Champion Jackie’s Warrior received a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 98 for his front-running three-quarter length victory in last Saturday’s $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) for older horses at 6 furlongs.

Jackie’s Warrior was making his first start since a sixth-place finish in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) Nov. 6 at Del Mar for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen and owners Kirk and Judy Robison of El Paso, Texas.

Jackie’s Warrior underwent surgery to remove a bone chip from a knee following the Breeders’ Cup and returned to the work tab Feb. 27 at Fair Grounds. Asmussen credited the Robisons, husband and wife, for racing Jackie’s Warrior at 4 after he collected an Eclipse Award in 2021 as the country’s champion male sprinter.

“It’s huge to have a champion back in training,” Asmussen said moments after his record-extending fourth Count Fleet victory.

“Hat’s off to Kirk and Judy to want to see a horse like this race.”

Heavily favored on the sloppy track, Jackie’s Warrior ($3) ran the distance in 1:09.09 under top weight of 123 pounds. Jackie’s Warrior, who raised his earnings to $1,853,964 following his ninth victory from 13 lifetime starts, will stand stud at Kentucky’s Spendthrift Farm upon his retirement from racing.

Asmussen said Jackie’s Warrior, a son of Maclean’s Music, will be pointed to the $750,000 Churchill Downs Stakes (G1) at 7 furlongs May 7.

The Count Fleet marked the fourth victory on the card for Rosario, the 2021 Eclipse Award winner as the country’s outstanding jockey.

Rosario earlier won the first race aboard favored Chapel Barn ($4.40) for 2020 Oaklawn training champion Robertino Diodoro, third race aboard favored Midnight Mistress ($3.80) for Asmussen and the fifth race aboard favored Kilgore ($3.20) for trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs.

Saturday marked the first time Rosario has recorded a four-bagger at Oaklawn. He rode five winners on the Arkansas Derby Day card in 2020.

Asmussen also won Saturday’s fourth race with Presidential ($27). The triple pushed Asmussen’s meet-leading total to 48 – nine more than runner-up Diodoro – and gave him 803 overall in Hot Springs. Asmussen became just the second trainer in Oaklawn history to reach 800 career victories with a double last Friday. The late Bob Holthus holds the Oaklawn record for career victories with 867.

The Count Fleet was Asmussen’s record-extending 97th career Oaklawn stakes victory. Asmussen has at least one stakes victory every year at Oaklawn since his first in 1996, a 27-year streak that is also a record in Hot Springs.

Asmussen is an 11-time Oaklawn training champion, capturing titles in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2021. Asmussen and the late Hall of Famer Henry Forrest share the Oaklawn record for career training titles with 11. Holthus won nine Oaklawn training titles.

Finish Lines

Favored Kilgore ($3.20) represented the 297th career Oaklawn victory for trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs in last Saturday’s fifth race. … Chel-c Bailey recorded her 16th riding victory of the 2021-2022 meeting in last Saturday’s 12th race aboard Obviously Too ($15) for trainer Burl McBride. The victory moved Bailey into a tie with John Hiraldo for the meet’s leading apprentice. Hiraldo is now a journeyman. … Through last Saturday, Day 57 of the scheduled 66-day meeting, 599 claims had totaled $12,323,750.