Big Step Up
A star-studded field is expected to go postward in Sunday’s Grade I $750,000 Apple Blossom Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Restricted to fillies four and up, the race features multiple grade I winners Elate and Midnight Bisou, widely regarded as two of the best older fillies in training.
However, there’s another horse in the field that has done some of her best running under the radar at smaller Canadian tracks Assiniboia, Northlands, and Century Downs. Based at Phoenix’s Turf Paradise, Escape Clause enters the Apple Blossom having won 20 of her 30 lifetime starts, including 18 stakes triumphs. However, her relatively small $495,500 career earnings are indicative that Sunday’s start is a significant step up in class.
This isn’t the first time veteran conditioner Don Schnell has ventured outside of his comfort zone with the star of his stable, as Escape Clause has tested the waters in southern California at both Del Mar and Santa Anita. In the game for over nearly five decades, Schnell has sent some 5,200 horses to the starting gate, winning over 900 races. One thing missing from his resume is a Grade I win, something that Escape Clause could give him Sunday.
“It seems like the older she gets, the better she gets,” Schnell told Oaklawn Park’s publicity office earlier this week. “People thought I was crazy to bring her down to Del Mar to run her in a stake there and at Santa Anita. I always had faith in her. I’m used to training $3,000, $4,000 horses. I don’t get the chance to train good horses, and she developed into a good one. Maybe we’re crazy, but I’m going to give her a try at one Grade 1.”
Schnell said Tyler Baze, a recent addition to the Oaklawn jockey colony, will ride Escape Clause in the Apple Blossom. Baze has been aboard Escape Clause in her last three starts, including a 5 ½-length victory in the $100,000 La Canada Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 12 at Santa Anita.
Brown Has Strong Duo in Aqueduct Turf Stake
Trainer Chad Brown boasts a pair of strong contenders for the fifth edition of the $100,000 Plenty of Grace over the inner turf on Sunday at Aqueduct Racetrack. Thais makes her 5-year-old debut after a distant 13th behind stablemate Sistercharlie in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf on November 3 at Churchill Downs. The daughter of Rio de La Plata enters the one-mile event for fillies and mares with several stakes placings in the United States and her native France but seeks her first North American victory at this caliber.
Brown also sends out Peter Brant’s Fifty Five, who has won four of her last seven starts. Like Thais, the New York-bred daughter of Get Stormy will make her 2019 debut. Last out, she was a one-length winner against fellow Empire State natives in the Ticonderoga on October 20 over the grass at Belmont Park, a race which she won by the same margin the year prior.
“They both seem to be training well,” Brown told the NYRA Press Office. “Both horses have different running styles, so they should complement each other well. Right now is that time of year to get them both started.”
Santa Anita has canceled races on its hillside turf course through April, according to a notice on Sunday’s overnight. Five races scheduled for about 6 1/2 furlongs on the hillside course from April 19 to April 28 will be offered at five furlongs on turf, and one race scheduled for 1 1/4 miles on turf on April 27 will now be run at 1 1/8 miles. There has been no racing on the course since March 31 when Arms Runner suffered a fatal injury in the Grade 3 San Simeon Stakes on the course.