Awesome Maria, who had finished second in her two prior Grade 1 starts,
earned a breakthrough victory today at Belmont Park,
delivering as the odds-on favorite in the Grade 1, $250,000 Ogden Phipps
Handicap for fillies and mares.
Looking to extend her winning streak to four and pick up her sixth
career stakes triumph, Awesome Maria broke a beat slowly but quickly recovered
to contest the pace from between horses. She dispatched Absinthe Minded when
the early leader began to backpedal with three furlongs left and drew away once
put to a drive by John Velazquez en route to a three-length victory over Payton
“She didn’t break as well as I would have liked to, but
once I got her into gear she was going comfortable the whole way around,
really, really nice,” said Velazquez. “Even though we were going a
quick pace, she was doing it easy. Coming to the quarter pole, I got after her
and made her switch leads and down by the three-sixteenths pole, she got
Off at 3-5, Awesome Maria paid $3.30 for a $2 win wager, completed 1
1/16 miles in 1:41.40, and earned $150,000 to lift her bankroll to $842,375.
“She’s been just very, very good,” said Pletcher of
the 4-year-old E. Paul Robsham Stables homebred. “She didn’t break
well but she was able to recover and find a spot there pretty quickly. After
that, she was in pretty good shape.”
Unrivaled Belle, the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic
winner and 2-1 morning-line second choice in the Phipps, was scratched in the
paddock after flipping and breaking her withers.
“She didn’t come down with a big thud, it was more of a
soft landing, but when she got up I knew immediately she had broken her
withers,” said the 5-year-old’s trainer, Hall of Famer Bill Mott.
“I’ve had horses come back and win stakes after they break their
withers, but she’ll be retired and go on to be a broodmare.”
Awesome Maria, winner of the 2009 Grade 2 Matron at Belmont and a
division of the 2010 Riskaverse on turf at Saratoga Race Course, is unbeaten in
four starts in 2011, having also taken February’s Grade 3 Sabin and
April’s Grade 3 Rampart, both at Gulfstream
Park, and the Grade 2 Shuvee Handicap
at Belmont on
May 21. In her two previous Grade 1 efforts, she finished second in both the
2009 Frizette at Belmont
and the 2010 Gazelle at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Overall, the daughter of Maria’s Mon is 7-3-1 from 12 starts. According
to Pletcher, she could make her next start in the Grade 1 Ruffian Handicap at Saratoga on July 31.
Pletcher’s other Phipps Handicap trainees, Super Espresso and
defending race winner Life At Ten, finished third and fourth, respectively, with
Absinthe Minded completing the order of finish.
“The strategy, on paper we felt that Absinthe Minded and Awesome
Maria would be laying one-two and Life At Ten would assume the garden
spot,” said Pletcher. “The way it broke, Cornelio [Velasquez] had
to grab her [Life At Ten] a little bit to get that spot, and in retrospect it
would have been better to go on, but he tried to execute the original game