April 14 was no exception.
In a knock-down, drag-out fight to the wire, Midnight Bisou defeated Escape Clause in a photo finish to take the $750,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) at Oaklawn Park.
"She's one of the great ones," said Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith. "It's an honor to come back here and be blessed to do as well as we've done."
In a short field of only six older fillies and mares, Midnight Bisou drew the outside post in the 1 1/16-mile test. The last to load in the gate Sunday, the 4-5 favorite patiently awaited her turn behind the gate as attendants scrambled to cajole longshot Viva Foreverto load, delaying the start.
Escape Clause was away first, followed by Canadian champion filly Wonder Gadot, who shot to the front up the outside under jockey David Cohen and pulled away to lead by three lengths.
Setting the pace on the rail, Wonder Gadot led through fractions of :23.07 and :47.08 for the half-mile. Escape Clause tracked the pace and slowly gained ground under Tyler Baze, who pushed the filly to maintain a two-length advantage over Viva Forever in third.
Advancing to the far turn, Escape Clause came on even terms with Wonder Gadot before passing the filly at the quarter pole to take command. Midnight Bisou, who was patiently handled by Smith, shifted out four wide to challenge the leaders and gave chase.
Escape Clause refused to yield and drove hard from her spot on the rail in midstretch. The two dueling fillies pulled away from the rest of the field and battled to the wire. When the photo finish was reviewed, victory fell the way of Midnight Bisou by a nose.
"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 sat back with Elate and waited to make my move. She ran huge, she had to fight for it, but she ran big. Escape Clause ran really well."
It was another 2 3/4 lengths back to third-place Elate, who finished nine lengths ahead of Viva Forever in fourth. Chocolate Martini, who made brief contact with Elate at the start, never fired and took fifth, followed by Wonder Gadot. The final time was 1:43.88.
"She's really and truly probably one of the best horses I've ever been on in my life," said Baze of Escape Clause. A competitor of serious caliber, the 5-year-old Going Commandomare has continued to impress for owner/trainer Don Schnell, becoming the first Manitoba-bred horse to win a graded stakes at Santa Anita Park when she took the Jan. 12 La Canada Stakes (G3).
"She gives it her all," Baze continued. "She got beat a nose, and I got slammed pretty hard going into the first turn. I knew I got beat at the wire. It was a head-and-head battle all the way down the lane. She gave me everything. We were a little unfortunate we didn't get the bob."
The win was especially poignant for Smith, who earned his seventh Apple Blossom score. His previous wins came aboard Zenyatta (2008 and 2010), Azeri(2002-04), and Nine Keys (1994).
"I had a great meet here for only being here a few days," Smith said.
Campaigned through her first six starts by Allen Racing, Bloom Racing Stable, and trainer Bill Spawr, Midnight Bisou broke her maiden on third asking in the Santa Ynez Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita at 3. She followed that performance with back-to-back wins in the Santa Ysabel Stakes (G3) and Santa Anita Oaks (G1) at the Southern California track.
She placed third in the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) at Churchill Downs behind Wonder Gadot and eventual 3-year-old champion filly Monomoy Girl. Transferred to the barn of Steve Asmussen, she bounced back one start later in the Mother Goose Stakes (G2) at Belmont Park.
Her next graded score came three months later when she was declared the winner following the disqualification of Monomoy Girl in the Cotillion Stakes (G1) at Parx Racing. She closed her impressive sophomore year with a third—again to Monomoy Girl—in the Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1) at Churchill.
Midnight Bisou kicked off 2019 with wins in the Jan. 27 Houston Ladies Classic (G3) at Sam Houston and March 16 Azeri Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn. Her Apple Blossom win improved her record to 8-3-3, with more than $2.4 million in earnings.
"What an unbelievable filly," 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."
Owned by Bloom Racing Stable, Madaket Stables, and Allen Racing, Midnight Bisou was purchased by Jeffrey Bloom, agent, for $80,000 from the consignment of Woodford Thoroughbreds to the 2017 Ocala Breeders' Sales Spring Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training. Bred in Kentucky by Woodford Thoroughbreds out of the Repent mare Diva Delite, the filly is a half sister to stakes-placed Stage Left.
Diva Delite has a Warrior's Reward 2-year-old colt and Wicked Strong yearling filly. She was bred to Pioneerof the Nile for 2019.