Trainer Chad Brown, enjoying remarkable success with his grass runners in recent months, sends out a strong pair in Samitar and Pianist for the $200,000 Athenia Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Belmont Park Oct. 12.
The 1 1/16-mile event for fillies and mares attracted a field of seven to Belmont's Widener course, with Pianist assigned top weight of 123 pounds. The Athenia is one of two grade III turf events on the Saturday program, sharing top billing with the Knickerbocker Handicap (gr. IIIT). The Athenia is the ninth on a 10-race card with a probable post time of 5:06 p.m. ET.
Pianist, front-running winner of the Gallorette Stakes (gr. III) at Pimlico Race Course in May, was most recently second in the Ballston Spa Stakes (gr. IIT) over firm ground at Saratoga Race Course Aug. 24. The 4-year-old daughter of More Than Ready chased the red-hot Laughing in second all the around the inner Saratoga layout at 1/16 miles in the Ballston Spa but came up a neck short in a game effort.
Owned by Hidden Brook Farm and Dan Zucker, Pianist is a five-time winner from 12 starts with four additional placings. She will break from post 5 with Jose Ortiz riding for the first time.
Pianist, who likes to race on or near the lead, would appear to have only one serious pace rival in the Athenia. Assateague showed the way in Belmont's one-mile Noble Damsel Stakes (gr. IIIT) Sept. 14 but drifted out in the lane and bumped while finishing fourth.
Brown's other starter, the British-bred Samitar, has won two of her past three starts and is coming into the Athenia off a neck victory in the restricted Speed Boat Stakes on a good Saratoga inner course Sept. 1.
Martin Schwartz's 4-year-old Rock of Gibraltar filly won the Garden City Stakes (gr. IT) in her initial start for Brown following her arrival from England in the summer of 2012. And while the lifetime earner of more than $1.1 million has not returned to that level since, she appears to be rounding back into top form. Javier Castellano has the return mount from post 3 on Samitar, who has not been worse than fourth in nine starts in the United States.
Both Pianist and Samitar are 2-for-2 at Belmont, with Samitar also having won the Fairy Garden overnight stakes in July and Pianist owning victories in a maiden race in 2011 and the Given overnight stakes in 2012.
"It's not ideal to run them both in the same spot but there are only so many graded stakes on the turf to go around," said Brown. "They're both doing well. Samitar has run well at Belmont Park, and Pianist seems to run well fresh; we'll lead them both over there and see what happens."
Trainer Christophe Clement seeks his record fourth Athenia victory with Virginia Kraft Payson's Ruthenia, most recently sixth in the 1 1/16-mile Speed Boat. The 5-year-old daughter of Pulpit seeks her first graded win since taking the Violet Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Monmouth Park in May 2012. Jose Lezcano has the call on Ruthenia, who has just one win in eight starts since the Violet.
Embarr, second last year to La Cloche in the 2012 Athenia at 24-1 odds, looks to end a six-race losing streak for trainer Susan Cooney, who also owns and bred the 5-year-old Royal Academy mare. Embarr was fifth in the Lady Baltimore at Laurel Park Sept. 21.
Phipps Stable's Abaco, second by a head to Strathnaver in the 1 1/16-mile Lady Baltimore, returns here as well for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey. Joel Rosario, off since Aug. 23 with a foot injury, is named to ride the 5-year-old Giant's Causeway mare seeking a first stakes win.
"I thought she was much the best in the Lady Baltimore, but she had all kinds of trouble in the race," said McGaughey. "I'm sure trying to win a graded stakes with her; I think she's deserving of it. Whether it's Saturday or not, I don't know, but she's doing awfully well."
Assateague, trained by Michael Matz, was edged by a pretty good group in the Noble Dancer— Peace Preserver, Hungry Island, and Better Lucky—ending her two-race win streak. She'll be seeking her first graded win with Luis Saez aboard.
Completing the main body of the field is My Perfect Ten, who registered her first stakes win July 6 in the Ellis Park Turf by 3 1/4 lengths. The 5-year-old Perfect Soul mare is trained by Stephen Lyster.
Lady Cohiba, who won the off-the-turf Glens Falls Stakes on a muddy track at Saratoga Sept. 2, Royal Lahaina, and Moment in Dixie were entered for the main track only.
$200,000 Athenia Stakes (gr. IIIT, Race 9, 5:06 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 3 & Up, 1 1/16 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, ML Odds
1. Embarr (VA), P Morales, 120, S S Cooney, 30/1
2. My Perfect Ten (KY), J Alvarado, 120, S S Lyster, 20/1
3. Samitar (GB), J Castellano, 120, C C Brown, 7/5
4. Abaco (KY), J Rosario, 116, C R McGaughey III, 6/1
5. Pianist (KY), J L Ortiz, 123, C C Brown, 5/2
6. Ruthenia (KY), J Lezcano, 120, C Clement, 6/1
7. Assateague (KY), L Saez, 120, M R Matz, 5/1
Main Track Only:
8. Royal Lahaina (KY), J L Ortiz, 120, T A Pletcher, 3/1
9. Lady Cohiba (KY), J Alvarado, 120, C Clement, 2/1
10. Moment in Dixie (KY), no rider, 118, J J Toner, 7/2