Grade I winner Awesome Maria, who looked as good as ever when returning from injury to romp in the Sabin Stakes (gr. III) last month, will be the odds-on choice to repeat in the $150,000 Rampart Stakes (gr. III) March 31 at Gulfstream Park.
Also on the Florida Derby Day undercard is the $100,000 Skip Away Stakes (gr. III), a 1 3/16-mile event that drew a field of nine.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, Awesome Maria is a 5-year-old homebred mare owned by E. Paul Robsham. She tallied by eight lengths as the 9-10 choice in the Feb. 25 Sabin, the same margin of victory she enjoyed in winning last year's Rampart. In spite of missing more than eight months, the talented daughter of Maria's Mon brings a five race-winning streak, all in graded stakes, into the 2012 Rampart.
Just five older fillies and mares are entered against Awesome Maria in the 1 1/8-mile dirt test. It is the third race on a stakes-filled afternoon at Gulfstream, with a 1:26 p.m. EDT post. The race is followed about an hour later by the Skip Away, which is the fifth event on the card.
Awesome Maria appeared headed for an Eclipse Award last spring following a three-length victory in the Ogden Phipps Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont Park in mid-June. But she missed the rest of the season with a condylar fracture sustained while in training for Saratoga's Ruffian Invitational (gr. I).
Her recovery was evident in her Sabin repeat, in which she left 2011 Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (gr. I) winner and Eclipse champion Royal Delta far behind. In the Rampart, she will carry 123 pounds, six more than each of her opponents.
“Her first start back was encouraging. She certainly hasn’t lost a step,” said Pletcher. “We were really pleased with that effort. She was coming off a long layoff. She might even improve for the Rampart.”
Regular rider John Velazquez is aboard the gray/roan mare, who breaks from post 5. Awesome Maria has won eight of 13 career starts while earning $902,375.
Howard Whitbread’s 5-year-old New York-bred mare Go Unbridled was a stakes winner at Belmont last year. The 5-year-old Unbridled Jet mare returns to graded stakes action for trainer Allen Jerkens after tuning up with a runner-up finish to Dancinginherdreams in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race on Feb. 19. Julien Leparoux has the return call.
Lacie Slew, a 6-year-old mare trained by Peter Walder for Ralph Durante and partners, ran third to Groupie Doll in a Gulfstream allowance in December. In her most recent start, the daughter of Mineshaft won the Maryland Racing Media Stakes for Maryland-breds going 1 1/8 miles Feb.11 at Laurel Park.
My Pal Chrisy and Farnsworth Stables’ uncoupled pair of Beloveda and Canadian Mistress, both trained by Marty Wolfson, complete the field.
In the Skip Away, Where's Sterling and Dixie Emperor are the 123-pound high weights.
Where's Sterling scored his first stakes victory in Philip H. Iselin (gr. III) at Monmouth Park last August for trainer Nick Canani. Frank Calabrese's 5-year-old son of Northern Afleet began his 2012 campaign with a close fourth-place effort in the Donn Handicap (gr. I) at Gulfstream Feb. 11. The Kentucky-bred bay has two wins and two seconds in his other four starts over the track. Joe Rocco Jr. rides him for the first time and they will break from the rail.
"He’s ready to go,” Canani said. “We know he likes the Gulfstream track. He’s run two good races here at the meet and had traffic trouble last out in the Donn Handicap. He’s a big horse and he can’t just stop and start. The added distance also should help him.”
Dixie Emperor won a grade I race in Venezuela last September and transferred to the United States for the 2012 campaign. The 5-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Purge races for Azul Dorado and is trained by Wolfson. In his only U.S. start, Dixie Emperor was no factor while finishing last of 10 in Gulfstream's Mac Diarmida Stakes (gr. IIT) Feb. 26. It was his first start on turf.
Pletcher entered Alma d'Oro, a 6-year-old owned by Mary Ellen and Robert Bourque. The son of Medaglia d'Oro began the year with back-to-back third-place finishes at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots in the Louisiana and Mineshaft (gr. III) handicaps.
Gary and Mary West's homebred Self Control steps into stakes company for the first time following an impressive first-level allowance victory at Gulfstream March 8. He was second in two prior allowance tries during the meet.
“We’ve been experimenting with stretching him out," said trainer Chad Brown of the 4-year-old Lemon Drop Kid colt. "We made some changes to him, equipment-wise, and he ran in a straight line last time. He’d been wanting to lug in. It was frustrating because he wouldn’t run in a straight line."
$150,000 Rampart Stakes (gr. III, Race 3, 1:26 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 4 & Up, 1 1/18 Miles (Dirt)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Beloveda (KY), J Castellano, 117, M D Wolfson
2. Go Unbridled (NY), J R Leparoux, 117, H A Jerkens
3. Lacie Slew (KY), J Rocco Jr., 117, P R Walder
4. Canadian Mistress (KY), E Trujillo, 117, M D Wolfson
5. Awesome Maria (KY), J R Velazquez, 123, T A Pletcher
6. My Pal Chrisy (FL), L Panici, 117, P Lutchman
$100,000 Skip Away Stakes (gr. III, Race 5, 2:23 p.m.), 4 & Up, 1 3/16 Miles (Dirt)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Where's Sterling (KY), J Rocco Jr., 123, N Canani
2. Uptowncharlybrown (KY), E Trujillo, 117, E J Coletti Sr.
3. Numb Lips (KY), L Jurado, 117, A C Bezara
4. Alma d'Oro (KY), J Castellano, 117, T A Pletcher
5. Praetereo (KY), E S Prado, 117, C J Domino
6. Dixie Emperor (KY), L Saez, 123, M D Wolfson
7. Fort Larned (KY), J R Leparoux, 117, I R Wilkes
8. Self Control (KY), J Bravo, 117, C C Brown
9. Malibu Glow (KY), J R Velazquez, 117, G Weaver