05/21/2011 5:21PM

Belmont: Awesome Maria comes through in Shuvee

NYRA/Adam Coglianese
Awesome Maria gets up in the last stride to edge Absinthe Minded in the Grade 2 Shuvee at Belmont Park

ELMONT, N.Y. – Awesome Maria was the only graded stakes winner going into the Shuvee Handicap and the only graded stakes winner coming out - but not without some anxious moments.


Pounded to 2-5 in a five-horse renewal of the $147,000 Shuvee, Awesome Maria needed the length of the stretch to get by stubborn pacesetter and second choice Absinthe Minded by a desperate head in the last strides.

Absinthe Minded went to the front as expected under Alan Garcia and rolled along through fractions of 23.64, 47.38 and 1:11.44 for the mile race, with Awesome Maria tracking her every move from close range outside with Javier Castellano. Absinthe Minded clung to a short lead to just yards before the wire, but Awesome Maria poked her head in front in the nick of time to remain perfect in three starts this year. The victory gave trainer Todd Pletcher his first win in the Grade 2 race for fillies and mares.

“It set up the way we expected on paper, but we didn’t expect the dogfight that ensued,” said Pletcher’s assistant trainer Jonathan Thomas. “It was a great race, and she showed a lot of grit. She’s a tough filly, and we have a lot of faith in her. The other filly, in fairness, ran huge race.”

Awesome Maria ($2.80), coming off blowout wins in the Sabin and Rampart at Gulfstream Park to begin her 4-year-old campaign, ran the mile in 1:35.19 on a fast main track and improved to 6-3-1 from 11 starts overall.

Absinthe Minded had 4 3/4 lengths on the Pletcher-trained Happy Week, who finished third but was disqualified and placed fourth behind Spa City Princess after carrying that rival out through most of the stretch run. R Betty Graybull completed the order of finish.