05/26/2012 1:54PM

Belmont Park: Awesome Maria tests win streak in Ogden Phipps Handicap

Barbara D. Livingston
Awesome Maria will carry top weight of 124 pounds in Monday's Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Handicap at Belmont Park.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Awesome Maria puts her six-race winning streak on the line against arguably the toughest field she’s met to date in Monday’s Grade 1, $400,000 Ogden Phipps Handicap at Belmont Park.

Usually the feature of a Saturday card in June, this year’s Phipps was moved to the same day as the Grade 1, $750,000 Metropolitan Handicap and Grade 1, $300,000 Acorn on a stellar 11-race program.

Awesome Maria won last year’s Phipps, the last of four graded stakes she won in 2011 before going to the sidelines with an injury. She has come back with solid victories in the Sabin – where she beat defending 3-year-old champion Royal Delta by eight lengths – and the Rampart, which she won by 2 1/4 lengths, both at Gulfstream Park.

In Monday’s Phipps, at 1 1/16 miles, Awesome Maria will carry top weight of 124 pounds, conceding 2 pounds to multiple Grade 1 winner It’s Tricky and 5 to 10 pounds to the other three runners, including Juanita, She’s All In, and Cash for Clunkers. All five horses are coming off of stakes wins.

“Everything she’s done the last six starts, we’re hoping for more of the same,” said Todd Pletcher, who trains Awesome Maria for Joyce Robsham. “We know this is a very, very tough race. I have a lot of respect for It’s Tricky and the other ones in there.

“Anytime you carry 124 pounds, you get a little nervous with that impost,” Pletcher continued. “At the same time, she’s deserving of topweight, given all of her success and her six-race winning streak. We hope it can continue.”

Awesome Maria, who has the tactical speed to be wherever John Velazquez wants her to be, breaks from post 2.

It’s Tricky has won both the Top Flight and Distaff handicaps at Aqueduct this year. Her one career start at Belmont came in last year’s Grade 1 Acorn, a race she won by 3 3/4 lengths in the mud.

“We’ll be forwardly placed in a one-turn mile and a sixteenth, and if it happens to shower at 3 o’clock, it won’t hurt our chances,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. “Last year, the Acorn in the mud was probably her best race.”

It’s Tricky breaks from post 3 under Eddie Castro.

She’s All In was dominating Oklahoma-bred company last year, but jumped up with a career-best performance winning the Grade 3 Sixty Sails Handicap at Hawthorne last out. She is cutting back to a one-turn race, but her trainer, Donnie Von Hemel, is not expecting that to be a problem.

“I would have preferred if it was a mile and an eighth or further, but they run that at one-turn also,” Von Hemel said. “I don’t think one turn should be much of an issue.”

Juanita comes in off a two-length victory at 16-1 odds in the Grade 2 La Troienne at Churchill on May 4. Prior to that, she finished second to Havre de Grace – the 2011 Horse of the Year – in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes at Fair Grounds.

Cash for Clunkers, who has reeled off three consecutive victories, makes her graded stakes debut in the Phipps.