01/05/2012 2:53PM

2011 Eclipse Awards: Awesome Maria

Barbara Livingston

Had the season ended in mid-June, with the running of the prestigious Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park, there could have been a serious argument made for a gray 4-year-old filly from the barn of Todd Pletcher as being the division leader in the clubhouse.

Awesome Maria got her name from her folks – Maria’s Mon and Discreetly Awesome – and she was living up to every syllable. Through the first half of the season, Awesome Maria raced four times and won all four, beginning with the Sabin Stakes and the Rampart Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

Moving to New York with the Pletcher caravan, Awesome Maria did not miss a beat, winning the one-mile Shuvee Handicap on May 21 in a thriller over Absinthe Minded. That race set up an old-fashioned New York showdown in the June 18 Ogden Phipps against the local queen, 2010 Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic champion Unrivaled Belle.

[MORE: Complete list of 2011 Eclipse Awards finalists | Vote for Horse of the Year and win]

They had met in the Rampart when Unrivaled Belle was making her first start of the year, and Awesome Maria had won for fun. This fact led horseplayers to make her heavily favored in the Phipps over her older, more accomplished rival. Still, Unrivaled Belle had to be considered dangerous, and not simply because she had defeated both Blind Luck and Havre de Grace in the Breeders’ Cup, or that she was trained by Bill Mott.

Unrivaled Belle was coming off a narrowly beaten second to Blind Luck in the La Troienne at Churchill Downs in an effort that was rated good enough to win most races. But before Phipps field even left the Belmont paddock, Unrivaled Belle flipped and fractured her withers, necessitating her scratch from the race. She never ran again.

Left without a serious threat, Awesome Maria went forth and made short work of her remaining Phipps opponents with a three-length victory. That same afternoon, Blind Luck took the Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park for only her second win of 2011 while Havre de Grace awaited her next assignment at Delaware Park, 3 for 3 at the time.

Then a month later, while preparing for the Ruffian Handicap at Saratoga, Awesome Maria emerged from a workout with a condylar fracture to her left foreleg. Surgery was performed and the prognosis was good for a full recovery, but the question will forever linger as to what might have been.

With Awesome Maria on the sidelines and Havre de Grace otherwise engaged, Marty Wolfson sent out the 6-year-old Ask the Moon for Farnsworth Stable to dominate both the Ruffian and the subsequent Personal Ensign, Saratoga’s most important races for the division.

Awesome Maria was bred by the E. Paul Robsham Stables and races for the late Robsham’s wife, Joyce Robsham. John Velazquez rode the filly in three of her four 2011 victories, including the Phipps, while Javier Castellano was aboard for the Shuvee.