HOT SPRINGS — This isn’t a match race, but two thoroughbred superstars in their racing prime make it seem like one.
Six are entered in the Grade I, $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap for fillies and mares 4 years old and up at Oaklawn today. The short field for the 1 1/16-mile race is topped by Monomoy Girl and Swiss Skydiver.
Post time for the Apple Blossom, Race 11 on Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort’s 12-race card, is scheduled for 6:09 p.m.
Monomoy Girl, a 6-year-old daughter of Tapizar, and Swiss Skydiver, by Daredevil, are currently ranked first and second, respectively, among North American older dirt females in Daily Racing Form’s weekly divisional rankings.
Swiss Skydiver trainer Kenny McPeek knows there are others in the Apple Blossom with a chance, however slim, for an upset win.
“There’s some other good horses in there, too,” he said. “Letruska’s not chopped liver by any means. Things are never black and white. They’re never easy.”
Monomoy Girl, the 2020 Eclipse Award champion older dirt female trained by Brad Cox, is the even-money morning-line favorite. Swiss Skydiver, the 2020 Eclipse Award champion 3-year-old filly, is the 2-1 second choice.
“It takes a good horse to win a race like this to start with, but I think we have the best horse,” Monomoy Girl jockey Florent Geroux said.
Letruska, a 5-year-old daughter of Super Saver, is trained by Fausto Gutierrez. Irad Ortiz Jr. is expected to ride Letruska, the 4-1 morning-line third choice.
“I think this is a very attractive race, especially between Monomoy and Swiss Skydiver,” Gutierrez said. “At the same time, the other horses, we have an important decision to make.
“I think for Letruska, she’s the speed of the race. It’s not a secret. If I did not think she had a chance, I don’t run this race. I know I need the best effort for Letruska to win this race, but at the same time, I know even Monomoy Girl and Swiss Skydiver need the best race, too, to win the Apple Blossom.”
Swiss Skydiver won five of nine graded-stakes starts last season, highlighted by her win in the Grade I Preakness Stakes against 10 other 3-year-old horses to become the 12th filly to win a Triple Crown race, and the first since Rachel Alexandra won the 2009 Preakness. Swiss Skydiver also won last season’s Grade III Fantasy Stakes in her only Oaklawn start.
“It’s exciting,” McPeek said. “It’s the best against the best with a lot of money on the line. I don’t know what kind of crowd they’ll have, but I’ll say it’ll draw pretty good.”
Monomoy Girl began her career as a 2-year-old in 2017 with two wins on turf, the second under Geroux’s guidance. He said he detected no hints of her future greatness from those attempts.
Monomoy Girl then won the 2017 Rags to Riches Stakes at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., and Geroux said he knew he was onboard a potential star.
“The first time I rode her it was on turf,” Geroux said. “She won, but it was not very impressive. The second start, it was on dirt, and it was when she showed what she could really do.”
Monomoy Girl won six of seven graded-stakes starts as a 3-year-old, including wins in the Grade I Kentucky Oaks at Churchill and the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Distaff. She was the 2018 Eclipse Award champion 3-year-old filly.
Monomoy Girl will make her second Oaklawn start. Her first came in her last start, a season-opening win in the Grade III Bayakoa Stakes over a sloppy racetrack Feb. 28.
McPeek said he approaches races like the Apple Blossom with a mindset similar to his before his first training win. It was for a purse of $4,600 at River Downs in Cincinnati on Oct. 27, 1985.
“I’ve won a lot of big races,” McPeek said. “I don’t want to say it’s old hat, but look, we do the work. We get the horse ready. We do our part, and then we’ve got to let go. Once I help the rider up and get her on the racetrack, my part’s done.
“When you win a big race, it’s a lot of fun. When you lose, you have to go, OK, we’re still going to go to dinner someplace good.”
Whatever the result, the sport as a whole should get a treat.
“It’s great for racing,” Cox said. “I’m sure it will be the most-watched race up to this point this year.”