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story.lead_photo.caption Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith rides Midnight Bisou (6) past Es- cape Clause and jockey Tyler Baze to win the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park on Sunday. - Photo by Grace Brown

HOT SPRINGS -- The race appeared to be a rematch of a mare's and filly's gate-to-wire showdown last month, but on the dirt, sand, and silt of Oaklawn Park's racetrack, there was a new mare in the mix.

Jeff Bloom's even-money favorite Midnight Bisou continued her 2019 run of success with a photo-finish win under the ride of Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith over relative long shot Escape Clause in 1:43.88 on a track rated good in the Grade I $750,000 11/16-mile Apple Blossom Handicap in the final stakes race of the three-day Racing Festival of the South.

"What an unbelievable filly," Midnight Bisou's Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen said. "We were talking about what a special filly she is, how much confidence she has this year. She really seems to be enjoying her job. We're just blessed to have her."

The result gave Midnight Bisou, a 4-year-old daughter of Midnight Luke, her third consecutive win. It followed two Grade II wins and was her 12th consecutive finish of third or higher in graded-stakes races, a streak that includes 8 wins, 1 second, and 3 thirds.

The first-place prize of $450,000 increased Midnight Bisou's career earnings to $2,405,000.

Elate, trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott and ridden by Jose Ortiz, was the 6-5 second choice and finished third, 23/4 lengths behind Escape Clause and 9 lengths in front of fourth-place Viva Forever.

Midnight Bisou and Elate dueled throughout the stretch in Oaklawn's Grade II 11/16-mile Azeri Stakes on March 16, but a sluggish start helped leave her behind the battle that eventually developed between Midnight Bisou and Escape Clause in the Apple Blossom.

Wonder Gadot, ridden by David Cohen, led the field of six through an opening quarter-mile of 23.07 and a half in 47.08, with Escape Clause, trained by Don Schnell and ridden at 10-1 by Tyler Baze, 21/2 lengths back. Elate was fourth and Midnight Bisou fifth.

"[Elate] got back into good position after the start," Mott said. "I thought [Ortiz] was really loaded going into the turn. I thought he was going well. I thought he was going quite well."

Midnight Bisou passed Elate and two others to follow Escape Clause's lead through 6 furlongs in 1:12.12. The pass caused a brief pause by Elate.

"He had to wait a little until Midnight Bisou went past him, and then he came out and around," Mott said. "I don't know if that cost any momentum or not. I don't have any big excuses."

Despite her third-place finish, Elate's credentials remain intact. The 5-year-old daughter of Medaglia d'Oro had two Grade I wins in 2017 and finished fourth in the 2017 Breeders' Cup Distaff at Del Mar in San Diego. She raced just twice in 2018, with a win in the Grade II Delaware Handicap at Delaware Park and a second in the Grade I Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga Race Course in New York.

Escape Clause led Midnight Bisou by a half a length at the head of the stretch, a margin that shrunk nearly immeasurably as the two raced toward the wire.

"She's really and truly one of the best horses I've been on in my life," Baze said. "It was a head-and-head battle all the way down the lane. She gave me everything."

With 1/16th of a mile left, it looked as if Midnight Bisou might not move close enough to pass Escape Clause, but Smith, at last, called on what Midnight Bisou needed to get a nose in front.

"Man, that was great," Smith said. "Escape Clause ran huge, but you know, the great ones seem to pull it off no matter what. I'm really happy with the way she ran today, but she had to run. Sometimes you have to do that. I set back with Elate and waited to make my move. She ran huge. She had to fight for it, but she ran big."

The Apple Blossom was Escape Clause's first race against Grade I company, though she won the Grade III La Canada Stakes at Santa Anita Park in southern California on Jan. 12 in Baze's first ride on the mare owned by Schnell, Barry Arnason, and Patrick Beavis.

Despite the wait for the photo-finish results, Baze said he knew Midnight Bisou had won.

"I knew I got beat at the wire," Baze said. "But this filly, you know, I told Don before the start that I would go anywhere in the world, I'd fly to the moon to ride her. She's some kind of horse. She breathes different air than other horses. She's amazing. We were just a little unfortunate we didn't get the bob. Right there at the end, the other horse, she had a nose in front."

Sports on 04/15/2019

Print Headline: Midnight Bisou sneaks past field

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