Awesome Maria faces 4 in the Shuvee.<br><a target="blank" href="">Order This Photo</a>

Awesome Maria faces 4 in the Shuvee.
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Awesome Maria Odds-On Choice in Shuvee 'Cap

Dominant at Gulfstream, Maria's Mon filly goes for her third straight graded win.

Awesome Maria, dominating winner of two graded stakes at Gulfstream Park this year, is the clear standout in a small field entered in the $150,000 Shuvee Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont Park May 21.

The 4-year-old daughter of Maria's Mon, 4-5 on the morning line, is one of two entrants from trainer Todd Pletcher in the Shuvee. The one-turn mile event for fillies and mares is the ninth race on the Preakness Day program at Belmont, with an expected start of 5:17 p.m. EDT.

Awesome Maria will be cutting back in distance from her eight-length romp as the 9-10 choice in the 1 1/8-mile Rampart Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream April 2. The gray/roan filly started the year with a 4 3/4-length score in Gulfstream's Sabin Stakes (gr. III) at one mile Feb. 19.

She raced twice previously at Belmont, both times as a 2-year-old in 2009. She captured the Matron Stakes (gr. II) and finished second by a head to Devil May Care as the heavy favorite in the Frizette Stakes (gr. I). She has had three published works at Belmont since arriving from Florida.

The Paul Robsham Stables' homebred is the 123-pound top weight, giving from seven to 10 pounds to her rivals.

“Todd has mentioned that she really came to hand in Florida, and we have seen plenty of the same since she came up here,” said Jonathan Thomas, an assistant to Pletcher. “She’s acted like a quality filly, disposition-wise, but obviously she has turned up her game a notch.”

Javier Castellano takes over on Awesome Maria for the first time. He replaces John Velazquez, who will be riding Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner Animal Kingdom in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) that day. Awesome Maria, a five-time winner of $602,375 in a 10-race career, breaks from post 3.

Pletcher is also represented by Wertheimer and Frere's Happy Week, who breaks from the rail for Jose Lezcano. The 4-year-old daughter of Distorted Humor  returns to dirt after finishing third in the Queen Stakes in her most recent start on Polytrack at Turfway Park March 26. She is seeking her first stakes win.

“She has shown at times she’s of quality, and it’s a good opportunity to race for some black type,” Thomas said of the 12-1 shot.

Absinthe Minded, fourth in the La Troienne Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs after setting the pace May 6, should show the way for Alan Garcia. Third in the Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) at Oaklawn Park prior to that, the 4-year-old Quiet American filly is trained by Wayne Lukas for Briland Farm. Winner of the Bayakoa Stakes at Oaklawn in February, Absinthe Minded is seeking her first graded win.

“She’s solid,” Lukas said of Absinthe Minded, pegged at 8-5 on the morning line. “This is a nice place for her to step up. Number one, we’d like to get a good graded effort out of her, and two, the distance should be good for her. She’s led some awfully good horses for a mile. This race is back a little quick, but we like the distance and she’s doing very well at the moment.”

New York-bred R Betty Graybull (8-1) returns for the first time since defeating Quiet Giant in the Ladies Handicap on the inner track at Aqueduct March 26. The late-running 5-year-old Holy Bull mare, trained by Linda White for Fantasy Lane Stable and Stronach Stables, has won eight of 21 starts in her career and earned $429,817.

“We’re not thrilled to have to run against Awesome Maria, but I was afraid of Quiet Giant, too, and I guess you can’t be afraid of one horse,” said White.

Spa City Princess (20-1), a 4-year-old stakes-winning New York-bred filly, completes the field.

$150,000 Shuvee Handicap (gr. II, Race 9, 5:17 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 3 & Up, 1 Mile
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Happy Week (KY), J Lezcano, 114, T A Pletcher
2. Absinthe Minded (KY), A Garcia, 116, D W Lukas
3. Awesome Maria (KY),  J Castellano, 123, T A Pletcher
4. R Betty Graybull (NY), E Castro, 115, L A White
5. Spa City Princess (NY), J F Chavez, 113, P J Kelly