HOT SPRINGS, Ark. -- Auditions for the Apple Blossom are being held Saturday at Oaklawn Park.
The Grade 3, $150,000 Azeri is the local prep for the meet's biggest offering for fillies and mares, the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom on April 13. It also is the first half of a stakes double. The Grade 2, $500,000 Rebel, local springboard to the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby, will be run two races after the Azeri. They go as the eighth and 10th races on an 11-race program that starts at 1:05 p.m. Central.
Joyful Victory has returned to Oaklawn for the Azeri a year after she won the Grade 2 Fantasy and Grade 3 Honeybee here. She arrived from Fair Grounds on Wednesday night, and is set to break from post 4 in a field of five fillies and mares. Joyful Victory comes into the 1 1/16-mile Azeri off a half-length win at the same distance in the $75,000 Tiffany Lass at Fair Grounds on Feb. 11.
"We're kind of going to see if she's an Apple Blossom horse or if we need to reach on in and get Havre de Grace," said Larry Jones, who trains Joyful Victory for Rick Porter. "We'd kind of like to get a Grade 1 win on her. That would be great.
"She's a very good filly in her own right."
Havre de Grace, owned by Porter and trained by Jones, is the reigning Horse of the Year and the defending champ in the Apple Blossom. She starts her season Saturday at Fair Grounds.
As for Joyful Victory, Jones is looking forward to running her again at Oaklawn.
"She's training very well, came out of her last race good, and that shorter stretch at Oaklawn, it kind of suits her very well," he said. "They usually have a lively pace and she's got a high cruising speed, and in a lot of races if there's not a quick pace you have to have her about strangled. We're hoping we get to see Joyful Victory allowed to run the way she needs to run."
Robby Albarado has the mount Saturday.
Absinthe Minded has won the first two filly-and-mare route stakes of the meet, the $75,000 Pippin on Jan. 21 and the $100,000 Bayakoa on Feb. 18. Both races were at 1 1/16 miles, with trainer D. Wayne Lukas calling Absinthe Minded's front-running Bayakoa score one of her best efforts.
"I thought it was kind of a significant race for her because she's always had speed, but she's taken pressure," he said. "But the other day, she took that pressure all the time and was perfectly relaxed in doing it and then finished big. I thought it was a really great race.
"I'm hoping mentally that that is absolutely locked into her brain, that she can do that, because when she does that she's pretty salty. She's liable to beat anybody."
Abinsthe Minded will break from the rail under Terry Thompson. The field also includes Ravi's Song, who was second in the Tiffany Lass, and Tiz Miz Sue, second in the Bayakoa.
TVG will be onsite Saturday, with a desk anchored by Paul Lo Duca and Matt Carruthers. The Horse Racing Radio Network, at www.horseracingradio.net, will broadcast live from 5-6 p.m. Central.