In Saturday’s Apple Blossom Handicap (G1), Point of Honor will seek her first career Grade 1 victory in a full field that includes five prior winners at the level.
“On paper, it’s a really salty race, and to some degree that’s the way it should be,” said Aron Wellman, president of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, who campaigns Point of Honor with Stetson Racing. “You put up $600,000 and Grade 1 honors, and 14 really good fillies should line up and duke it out for the title.”
In what Wellman likened to “a midseason Breeders’ Cup Distaff,” his Curlin filly’s competition includes:
• Ollie’s Candy, a west coast shipper breaking from the rail. She won last year’s Clement L. Hirsch (G1) at Del Mar.
• Come Dancing, from the No. 4 post, who’s an X factor of sorts given she won the Ballerina (G1) around one turn and stretches out here.
• No. 6 Street Band, a 4-year-old based at Oaklawn Park, likes to come from off the pace as she did in taking the 2019 Cotillion (G1).
• Serengeti Empress, who will be gunning it from the gate. Last year’s Kentucky Oaks heroine returned to top form when winning the local prep for this, the Azeri (G2).
• And Ce Ce, another from California who will have to overcome an outside draw but appears to have a high ceiling off a victory in the Beholder Mile (G1).
“Typically you like to build up and be able to thin out throughout the year, then meet all these kind of fillies in November,” Wellman said. “This is a peculiar season to say the least with unprecedented circumstances. If they’re ready to run, you’ve got to run.
“Our filly’s ready. She had a prep race that we feel like she benefitted from. She’s trained forwardly and the timing is ideal as far as the spacing.”
Only out of the exacta once in seven starts, Point of Honor returned from a six-month layoff March 7 to run second in a handicap event at Tampa Bay Downs. Connections knew going in that she was not only giving a significant weight break to rivals but having to run seven furlongs, shorter than her preferred trip.
“It was traveling and running against the nuts off the layoff or this sort of handicap at Tampa that popped up at the right time,” Wellman said.
Point of Honor finished second, running evenly but four lengths behind J P’s Delight. And that served as a springboard to the Apple Blossom for a filly who capped last season with a victory in Pimlico’s Black-Eyed Susan (G2) before seconds in Saratoga’s Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) and Alabama Stakes (G1).
Trained by George Weaver, Point of Honor had also broken her maiden on debut, graduated to win Tampa Bay Downs’ Suncoast Stakes and finished fourth in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2). That run put her under consideration for the Kentucky Oaks, and Point of Honor did some training at Churchill Downs before being left out of the body of the field on points.
To jump start this season, connections considered the La Troienne (G1) run on Kentucky Derby weekend, at least until that race was pushed back to September.
“It made our management very easy,” Wellman said, “and we were able to hone in on the Apple Blossom.”
The same goes for a number of others in Saturday’s field. The hope for Wellman is, going 1 1/16 miles, speedy types like Serengeti Empress, Come Dancing and Cookie Dough go to battle on the front end.
“Anyone who gets caught up in that tussle early who sticks around late is going to certainly earn it,” Wellman said. “There’s going to be a whole host of very good fillies chasing them, trying to mow them down, and we hope Point of Honor is one of those fillies.”