Saturday, May 26, 2012


ELMONT, N.Y. – Awesome Maria and It’s Tricky will put their undefeated 2012 records on the line Monday when they meet for the first time in the Grade 1, $400,000 Ogden Phipps Handicap, one of four graded stakes on an action-packed Memorial Day card at Belmont Park.

The 1 1/16th-mile Ogden Phipps will be run as race 8 on the 11-race holiday card, which also features the Grade 1, $300,000 Acorn for 3-year-old fillies, the Grade 2, $200,000 Sands Point for 3-year-old turf fillies, and the highlight of the afternoon, the Grade 1, $750,000 Metropolitan Handicap. Together, they comprise a $500,000 Guaranteed All Graded Stakes Pick 4, beginning with the Sands Point in race 7.

Awesome Maria carries a six-race winning streak into the Ogden Phipps, including a victory in last year’s running. Subsequently sidelined by injury, the 5-year-old daughter of Maria’s Mon returned to the races in impressive fashion this winter at Gulfstream Park, where she posted a dominant eight-length victory over last year’s champion 3-year-old filly, Royal Delta, in the Grade 3 Sabin on February 25, followed by a 2 ¼-length triumph in the Grade 3 Rampart on March 31.

“She was dominant down at Gulfstream this winter, and dominant last year before she was unlucky enough to get hurt,” said Michael McCarthy, assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher. “This race has been a target for us all along. Whoever wins this race will have a head start in the championship picture.”

Owned by E. Paul Robsham, Awesome Maria is 9-3-1 from 14 starts, including the 2011 editions of the Sabin and Rampart. Among her victories at Belmont are last year’s Grade 2 Shuvee and the Grade 2 Matron in 2009 as a juvenile.

“From the beginning, she’s been so professional in everything she’s done,” said McCarthy. “She’s all class.”

The 4-5 favorite in the field of five, the front-running Awesome Maria will tote high weight of 124 pounds, including John Velazquez, as she leaves from post position 2.

A dual Grade 1 winner last year, the 4-year-old It’s Tricky was impressive in her two starts this year at Aqueduct Racetrack, taking the Grade 2 Top Flight by 2 ¾ lengths on March 3 and the Grade 2 Distaff by 3 ½ lengths on April 14. The Mineshaft filly has been first or second in all but one of her 11 starts, including victories in the Grade 1 TVG Acorn at Belmont and the Grade 1 TVG Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga Race Course.

“She’s doing great,” said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin of It’s Tricky, who carries the colors of Godolphin Racing. “We have a lot of respect for Awesome Maria and her connections. It’s going to be a tough race. But if one of these two wins it, they’re going to be three-for-three this year.”

The speedy It’s Tricky, who will carry 122 pounds, including Eddie Castro, was listed as the 2-1 second choice in the Ogden Phipps, for which she drew post position 4.

Looking to upend the top two is the consistent She’s All In, an 8 ¾-length winner of the Grade 3 Sixty Sails Handicap at Hawthorne last time out. Trained by Donnie Von Hemel, who will saddle Caleb’s Posse in the Met Mile, She’s All In will be carrying 115 pounds as she makes her Grade 1 debut in the Ogden Phipps at age 5.

“Her pedigree lends itself to getting better with age,” said Von Hemel of She’s All In, a daughter of Include. “Last time we had the chance to run her at 1 1/8 miles, which I was wish the Phipps was, but we’re getting significant weight from some of the others.”

She’s All In, 6-1 on the morning line, will be ridden by Luis Quinonez from post position 3.

William and Graydon Patterson’s Juanita, whom trainer Michael Maker claimed last March for $25,000, comes into Monday’s race off a two-length victory in the Grade 2 La Troienne at Churchill Downs on May 4. A daughter of Mineshaft, like It’s Tricky, Juanita won the Grade 2 Indiana Oaks last fall and finished second to 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace in the New Orleans Ladies in March.

At 12-1 on the morning line, she will be ridden by Ramon Dominguez from post position 5.

Completing the field is Cash for Clunkers, who is carrying a three-race win streak into her graded stakes debut.

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