Odds-on choice Awesome Maria scored her second straight dominating win at Gulfstream Park this season in the $150,000 Rampart Stakes (gr. III) April 2, spoiling the 2001 debut for Unrivaled Belle (VIDEO).
Awesome Maria, stalking a quick early pace for jockey John Velazquez, seized the lead near the quarter pole and aired through the homestretch, winning by eight lengths over outsider Successful Song. The final time for the 1 1/8-mile event for older fillies and mares was a solid 1:49.09.
Todd Pletcher trains the 4-year-old Awesome Maria, a Kentucky homebred daughter of Maria's Mon--Discreetly Awesome, by Awesome Again, for Joyce Robsham.
Unrivaled Belle, winner of the 2010 Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic (gr. I) at Churchill Downs last November, finished a one-paced third in her first start of the year for trainer Bill Mott.
Awesome Maria was coming off an impressive four-length victory in the one-mile Sabin Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream Feb. 19.
“She just reached a new level in her training since we got her down here this winter," Pletcher said.
Pletcher said he would point Awesome Maria to the Ogden Phipps Handicap (gr. I) June 18 at Belmont Park, but may run her back in Belmont's Shuvee Handicap (gr. II) May 21 as well.
The gray/roan filly settled in third on the outside after Persuading wrested the early lead at the rail and made the pace over Unrivaled Belle while trying to drift out on the first turn. Fractions for the distance were lively -- :23.61, :46.80, and 1:10.85 -- as Persuading held about a 1 1/2-length advantage over Unrivaled Belle into the far turn.
Awesome Maria moved swiftly on the outside to get the lead midway on the bend and quickly took command. She was four lengths clear at the eighth pole and widened from there in an impressive display.
“She was really good today," Velazquez said. "Around the first turn she relaxed really well for me, and then was there for me when I needed her. There was no question in my mind about the extra distance going into this race. The only question was would she relax which she did. She made me look good today.”
Successful Song, ridden by Edgar Prado, swept past Unrivaled Belle on the far turn but could not keep pace with the winner while finishing second by a comfortable 2 1/4 lengths. Unrivaled Belle, a lifetime earner of more than $1.7 million, tired in the stretch while clinging to third for Kent Desormeaux as the 7-5 second choice.
Mott said he thought Unrivaled Belle might be a little short at nine furlongs in her first race back.
"That’s about as far as she wants to run," he said. "First time out of the box, a flat mile race might have been better for us, but we’re trying to get to the La Troienne (at Churchill Downs on May 6), and this was nice timing to do that.”
Awesome Maria, now two-for-two at Gulfstream, improved her career mark to 5-3-1 in 10 starts. She has banked $602,375 after collecting $90,000 for the Rampart win.
Winner of the the Matron Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont as a 2-year-old in September 2009, Awesome Maria also ran second in Frizette Stakes (gr. I) as a juvenile. In her final start last year, she finished second in the Gazelle Stakes (gr. I) at Aqueduct.
Awesome Maria carried 121 pounds to victory and paid $3.80, $3, and $2.10 as the 9-10 choice. Successful Song, making her graded-stakes bow for trainer Edward Plesa Jr., returned $12 and $3.80 as the longest shot in the field at 25-1. The exacta was $50.80. Unrivaled Belle paid $2.10 to show.
Joanie's Catch scratched.