Heavily favored Awesome Maria battled Absinthe Minded down the long Belmont Park homestretch to prevail by a head in a thrilling finish to the $150,000 Shuvee Handicap (gr. II) May 21 (VIDEO).
Awesome Maria, an E. Paul Robsham Stables Kentucky homebred, remained unbeaten in three starts in 2011, all in graded stakes. The 4-year-old gray/roan filly by Maria's Mon--Discreetly Awesome, by Awesome Again, is trained by Todd Pletcher.
Just five fillies and mares contested the Shuvee, a one-turn mile, with Awesome Maria the 2-5 favorite with Javier Castellano aboard. Awesome Maria won in 1:35.19 on a fast track.
Awesome Maria raced off the flank of Absinthe Minded in second as the pacesetter carved out fractions of :23.64, :47.38, and 1:11.44. The two fillies were put to a drive as they turned for home, and Awesome Maria gradually got her head in front of Absinthe Minded following a lengthy tussle.
“[Awesome Maria is] a game filly,” said Castellano. “She responded very well, and I’m very satisfied. It was a great performance. I could feel I had a lot of horse, and I think she wanted to be competitive with the other horse.”
A stakes winner last year, Awesome Maria ran second in Aqueduct's Gazelle Stakes (gr. I) in the fall. But her career has really taken off this season, beginning with a pair of grade III wins at Gulfstream Park. She captured the one-mile Sabin by 4 3/4 lengths Feb. 19, then took the Rampart by eight April 2. She has a career mark of 6-3-1 in 11 races with earnings of $692,375.
“It set up the way we expected on paper, but we didn’t expect the dog fight that ensued,” said Jonathan Thomas, assistant to Pletcher. “It was a great race, and she showed a lot of grit. She’s a tough filly, and we have a lot of faith in her. The other filly [Absinthe Minded], in fairness, ran a huge race.”
Awesome Maria paid $2.90, $2.10, and $2.10 and topped a $5.60 exacta.
Absinthe Minded returned $3 and $2.30 in her first start for trainer Wayne Lukas since finishing fourth after setting the pace in the La Troienne Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs May 6.