A two-time allowance winner since moving to the barn of Chad Brown, Sheep Pond Partners, Newport Stables, and Bradley Thoroughbreds Roca Rojo broke through for her first graded win Oct. 23 in the $200,000 Athenia Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Belmont Park.
Sixth through much of the 1 1/16-mile test, the Irish-bred, 4-year-old daughter of Strategic Prince made a seven-wide move entering the stretch and continued her wide rally to win by 3 1/4 lengths. Stormy Victoria closed from farther back to pick up place honors, a neck ahead of Mexican Gold.
Roca Rojo and jockey Javier Castellano hit the wire in 1:43.20 on soft turf, after All in Fun set fractions of :25.12 and :49.34 through a half-mile. Means Well took over the lead to cover six furlongs in 1:13.98, as My Sweet Girl made a three-wide move to hit the front at the top of the stretch, while the closers loomed.
"It was a perfect trip," Castellano said. "European horses tend to come from behind, so I covered her up and tried to save all the ground. When I took her up beside horses, she took off. It was impressive the way she did it today."
After winning her first two races in Ireland in 2015, Roca Rojo won her first race for Brown in her U.S. debut at Belmont in June, ran fourth in the Fasig-Tipton De La Rose Stakes at Saratoga Race Course in August, and recorded her second allowance victory Sept. 15 back at Belmont.
"Javier really gave her a great trip," Brown said of the Athenia. "She loved the soft turf, and was able to settle and finish really strong today. We really like the way she's been developing."
Off as the 4-1 fourth choice, Roca Rojo paid $10.20, $5, and $3.70 across the board. Stormy Victoria brought $6.70 and $5, while Mexican Gold delivered $3.70 to show.
Bred by Tommy Murphy, out of the Orpen mare Lucy Diamonds, Roca Rojo now has five wins from six starts and earnings of $248,262.