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Breeders' Cup 2017

Awesome Maria Shoots for Hat Trick in Shuvee

Awesome Maria top story.
Awesome Maria, who won her last two starts by a combined 12 ¾ lengths, will attempt to pick up her third straight graded stakes victory when she faces four fillies and mares in Saturday’s Grade 2, $150,000 Shuvee Handicap at Belmont Park.


After closing her 3-year-old season with a runner-up effort in the Grade 1 Gazelle at Aqueduct Racetrack, Awesome Maria opened her 4-year-old campaign with a pair of triumphs at Gulfstream Park, winning the one-mile, Grade 3 Sabin by 4 ¾ lengths and the 1 1/8-mile, Grade 3 Rampart by eighth lengths for trainer Todd Pletcher and owner/breeder E. Paul Robsham Stables.


“Todd has mentioned that she really came to hand in Florida, and we have seen plenty of the same since she came up here,” said Jonathan Thomas, assistant to Pletcher. “She’s acted like a quality filly, disposition wise, but obviously she has turned up her game a notch.”


In the Shuvee, Awesome Maria will be cutting back to a one-turn mile, but Thomas is confident she can succeed at multiple distances.


“With her style of running, a cutback shouldn’t pose a problem,” said Thomas. “She appears to be a very versatile filly.”


Javier Castellano will ride Awesome Maria, the 4-5 morning-line favorite and 123-pound highweight, from post position 3 in the Shuvee, the ninth race on 10 live-race card that includes the Preakness simulcast from Pimlico Race Course.


The Pletcher barn will also send out Wertheimer et Frere’s Happy Week, who will return to conventional dirt after finishing third in the Queen Stakes at Turfway Park on March 26.


“She has shown at times she’s of quality, and it’s a good opportunity to race for some black type,” said Thomas.


Happy Week, 12-1 on the morning line, will leave from the rail under Jose Lezcano and 114 pounds.


R Betty Graybull will attempt to upset a Pletcher trainee in two consecutive races, having defeated Quiet Giant by three-quarters of a length in Aqueduct Racetrack’s Ladies Handicap on March 26. She has won three out of her last four, having captured a Parx Racing allowance on December 4, defeated New York-breds in the Leecoo overnight stakes at Aqueduct on January 13, and finished sixth in the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie Handicap at Laurel Park on February 19.


“We’re not thrilled to have to run against Awesome Maria, but I was afraid of Quiet Giant, too, and I guess you can’t be afraid of one horse,” said Linda Ann White, who trains R Betty Graybull for Fantasy Lane Stable.


While White is concerned there won’t be much pace for R Betty Graybull, a stretch runner, in the Shuvee, she is certain the 5-year-old daughter of Holy Bull will make a late charge.


“It could come up a very tactical race, and we do need a pace,” said White. “With a small field, they might be holding back a little. Betty always runs her race. She starts out slow and doesn’t get involved early. She’s going to kick and is going to come. Whether she gets up or not remains to be seen. A little more distance would be nice, but she has won here going seven-eighths [in the Anniron overnight stakes on September 29].”


Eddie Castro has the call aboard R Betty Graybull, who was assigned 115 pounds and will leave from post 4 as the 8-1 third choice on the morning line.


Briland Farm homebred Absinthe Minded seeks her first graded-stakes win, having captured the Bayakoa Stakes by four lengths at Oaklawn Park on February 19. She enters the Shuvee off thirds in the Grade 3 Azeri Handicap on March 19 and the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap on April 15, both at Oaklawn, and a fourth in the Grade 2 La Troienne at Churchill Downs on May 6. All four were around two turns at distances of 1 1/16 miles or longer.


“She’s solid,” Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said of Absinthe Minded. “This is a nice place for her to step up. Number one, we’d like to get a good graded effort out of her, and two, the distance should be good for her. She’s led some awfully good horses for a mile. This race is back a little quick, but we like the distance and she’s doing very well at the moment.”


Absinthe Minded, installed as the 8-5 second choice and assigned 116 pounds, will leave from post 2 under Alan Garcia.


Spa City Princess completes the field.


The field for the Grade 2, $150,00 Shuvee Handicap:








Happy Week (KY)

J Lezcano


T A Pletcher



Absinthe Minded (KY)

A Garcia


D W Lukas



Awesome Maria (KY)

J Castellano


T A Pletcher



R Betty Graybull (NY)

E Castro


L A White



Spa City Princess (NY)

J F Chavez


P J Kelly





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