06/25/2011 3:39PM

Belmont Park: Giants Play walks off with New York Stakes

Tom Keyser
Giants Play holds off Zagora to win the Grade 2 New York Stakes.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Jockey Rajiv Maragh masterfully slowed the pace, and Giants Play dug in when called upon to win the Grade 2, $150,000 New York Stakes for fillies and mares on the turf at Belmont Park on Saturday.

Pace, or lack thereof, made this race. Giants Play took charge at the start of the 1 1/4-mile race and proceeded to back down the clock.

The timer told the tale as fractions of 26.54 seconds, 52.99, and 1:17.65 flashed up as a very relaxed front-runner dictated a dawdling pace.

Hibaayeb, the stalker all the way around, had first run. The winner of Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay last time out, and the 7-5 favorite in the New York, Hibaayeb made a move with a quarter-mile left but could not reel in the leader.

The main remaining danger was Zagora, the 17-10 second choice, who charged through the lane but came up a head short.

“She was a lot more relaxed today,” Maragh said. “It helped me to do my job better. I felt like we were going slow, but my main thing was just to try to get her to settle. That was the key to getting the best out of her. I wasn’t worried about the fractions at all.”

It turned out her five rivals were the ones who had to worry.

A 4-year-old, Giants Play got her second win in 11 starts. This victory was especially sweet for ebullient trainer Christophe Clement, who couldn’t stop grinning while accepting congratulations.

“He gave her a great ride, she’s an improving filly. To win a graded stakes was a goal. Where she’ll go next, I haven’t a clue. This is a big deal,” Clement said.

And a satisfying one, beating the favorites.

“It’s always nice when horses over the odds,” Clement said. “It shows in horse racing, nothing is sure.”

A small change helped produce her first win in the United States in four starts. Giants Play ran with a net over her nostrils.

“It just sits there,” Clement said. “Some fillies, it helps relax them.”

The 7-2 third choice, Giants Play paid $9.20 to win. The time was 2:04.76 on the firm course.