HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) - Plum Pretty shook off a poor start and cruised to a victory in the $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap on Friday at Oaklawn Park.
Twelve Twenty Two, ridden by Calvin Borel, set the early pace, covering the first quarter mile in 23.89 and first half in 47.54, but Plum Pretty pulled even by the half-mile mark. The Bob Baffert-trained filly with Rafael Bejarano aboard brushed aside a spirited charge from Absinthe Minded to pull away for a 2 1/4-length victory in the 1 1/16 Grade I race.
Despite breaking a step slow out of the gate, Baffert was pleased with the effort from Plum Pretty, who went off as the 3-5 favorite, in her first race of the year.
``She has been working really well, and she ran like she's been working,'' Baffert in a telephone interview. ``I had some anxious moments at the start. Once she got into gear, she just dragged (Bejarano) around there.''
The Apple Blossom featured a field of only five horses after 2011 winner and 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace pulled out after she was assigned the top weight of 123 pounds.
Plum Pretty finished with a time of 1:42.64 and returned $3, $2.80 and $2.10. Absinthe Minded was scond and paid $3.80 and $2.20, followed by Tiz Miz Sue in third at $2.10.
Plum Pretty added to her impressive career totals, which includes winning the $1 million Kentucky Oaks last May. As it turned out, the less-than-stellar start from the outside post No. 5 worked to her advantage, according to Bejarano.
``She felt really, really good,'' Bejarano said. ``I missed the first jump a little bit. She kind of came away from there on the wrong foot, but I think it was the best thing that happened. If she had fired out of there, she might have gone up there head and head with that other filly.
``She was great relaxing and after a half-mile I felt in total control. She was ready to go when I asked her.''
Absinthe Minded won stakes races for fillies and mares at Oaklawn on Jan. 21 and Feb. 18. She is trained by D. Wayne Lukas and showed considerable grit in running second.
``My mare ran a great race,'' said Terry Thompson, who rode Absinthe Minded. ``She gave me all she had. It's a shame she got beat. She didn't win but she ran a winning race.''
Local favorite Tiz Miz Sue, trained by Steve Hobby of Hot Springs, won the Grade 3 Azeri at Oaklawn Park on March 17.
``She relaxed really well, which is important for her,'' said Tiz Miz Sue jockey Joseph Rocco Jr. ``She got in good position all on her own. I felt I had a lot of horse left. We couldn't get there because the top two horsed ran really big raced themselves.''
Holy Heavens, who won a $100,000 stakes race at Sunland Park in her last outing, was never a factor and finished fourth. Twelve Twenty Two could not maintain her brisk pace from the opening half-mile and faded to fifth.
Plum Pretty will look to add her name to the list past Apple Blossom winners who went on to win Horse of the Year, which includes Zenyatta and Azeri.