Brazilian-bred Verruma tracked the early pacesetters, then rallied through the stretch to win her division of the $137,875 Athenia Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Belmont Park Friday. Chilean-bred Babae, who Verruma beat in a June allowance race at Belmont, won the second division.
Under John Velazquez, Verruma completed the 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.09 on firm turf, finishing a nose ahead of 16-1 longshot Siringas. Freefourracing finished third as the 5-2 favorite, followed by Step With Style, Lady Dora, Arty'svirginiagirl, Shooting Party, and Prospectress.
Babae raced in second most of the way before passing Batique to earn a 2 1/2-length win as the 2-1 favorite. Babae completed her heat in 1:40.53 under Jorge Chavez. Batique came home second followed by Sweet Prospect, Zeiting, Tippity Witch, Elegant Ridge, Preseli, and Lady Brook.
The win was the second in a row for Verruma and her third since coming to the States from her native Brazil. Trained by Angel Penna Jr. for owners Earl Mack and Jael Barros, Verruma earned her eighth in 13 career starts with the win. In Brazil, she won the Grande Premio Criacao Nacional-Taca de Prata (Brz-I) and the Grande Premio Joao Cecilio Ferraz (Brz-II). Haras J. B. Barros bred her from the Caerleon mare, Call Box.
"I talked it over with Johnny (Velazquez) and there was no pace in the race," said Penna. "So, we wanted her to be a little closer than normal, in the first sixteenth of a mile, no one wanted the lead. Johnny laid her up near the pace beautifully and gave her a great ride."
The second choice in the wagering, Verruma paid $9.40, $5.20, and $3.90 and topped a $156 exacta.
In the second division, Babae returned $6, $3.60, and $2.90, with her exacta paying $32.20.
The Athenia win marks the 10 in 31 starts for Babae, who earned a group III win in Chile as well as two group I placings. The Athenia marks her first stakes success in the United States, improving on her second-place finishes in both the Diana (gr. IIT) and Ballston Spa Breeders' Cup (gr. IIIT) Handicaps at Saratoga. In her most recent start prior to the Athenia, the Frank Alexader trainee finished fifth in the Flower Bowl Invitational Stakes (gr. IT) won by Lailani. Babae (Barkerville--Betrayer, by Fain) is owned by Joseph Platt Jr. and was bred by Haras Carampangue.
"We never considered the Breeders' Cup for her because she wasn't eligible," Alexander said. "You know they ought to change the rules a little bit so that when you buy a horse from overseas, you can make a payment for considerably less than they would charge now."
Both Verruma and Babae earned $82,725 for their victories. (Charts, Equibase