Awesome Maria remained perfect in four starts in 2011 and notched her first grade I win when she kicked away in the stretch to post a three-length victory in the $250,000 Ogden Phipps Handicap (VIDEO) June 18 at Belmont Park.
The 4-year-old daughter of Maria’s Mon, a homebred of E. Paul Robsham Stables, solidified her status as one of top older fillies in the nation with her convincing win. She completed the 1 1/16 miles on a fast main track in 1:41.40 under John Velazquez.
Trainer Todd Pletcher, who had three of the five starters in the Phipps, won the race for the third time. Payton d'Oro rallied late to finish second, 1 1/2 lengths in front of the Pletcher-trained Super Espresso. Life At Ten, the winner of last year’s Phipps, finished fourth this time for Pletcher after tiring late.
Some of the luster was taken out of the race when Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (gr. I) winner Unrivaled Belle was scratched after flipping in the paddock and breaking her withers. She was immediately retired.
“She flipped in the paddock," trainer Bill Mott said. "She didn’t come down with a big thud, it was more of a soft landing, but when she got up I knew immediately she had broken her withers. I’ve had horses come back and win stakes after they break their withers, but she’ll be retired and go on to be a broodmare.”
Absinthe Minded, who wound up finishing last, set the pace under Eddie Castro, leading through an opening quarter-mile of :23.50 and a half-mile in :45.70. Awesome Maria tracked her from the outside and took over just after the four-furlong marker. Life At Ten also made her bid on the turn, and when they ran six furlongs in 1:09.94 she was nearly even with her stablemate.
But Awesome Maria quickly opened up her lead when they straightened away and was never seriously challenged in the short stretch.
“She didn’t break as well as I would have liked to, but once I got her into gear she was going comfortably the whole way around, really, really nice," Velazquez said. "Even though we were going a quick pace, she was doing it easy. Coming to the quarter pole, I got after her and made her switch leads and down by the three-sixteenths pole, she got another gear.”
The gray/roan filly has been flawless this year, winning the Sabin (gr. III) and Rampart (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park during the winter, and taking the Shuvee Handicap (gr. II) by a head May 21 at Belmont. Overall, it was her third win in four starts on the track, including a victory in the Matron (gr. II) as a juvenile.
“I think she was impressive again. She has been pretty impressive every start this year, her hardest-fought one being the last one," Pletcher said. "She has been just very, very good. (With Unrivaled Belle scratched) I felt like on paper it would set up the same way; it obviously changes the complexion of the race when the Breeders’ Cup winner doesn’t run. We’ll stick to 1 1/8 mile races. We’ll look at the Ruffian (gr. I, July 31 at Saratoga) and look closely at the weights.”
The winner, who is out of the Awesome Again mare Discreetly Awesome, improved to 7-3-1 from 12 career starts and earnings of $842,375.
Sent off as the 3-5 choice, Awesome Maria paid $3.30, $2.40, and $2.10. The exacta (3-6) returned $13.40 and the trifecta (3-6-1) was worth $37.30.