04/02/2011 6:41PM

Gulfstream Park: Awesome Maria lives up to name in Rampart Handicap

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Bob Coglianese
Awesome Maria romps in the Rampart Handicap under John Velazquez.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Awesome Maria was just that and then some Saturday at Gulfstream Park, destroying five rivals including reigning Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic winner Unrivaled Belle with a devastating eight-length victory in the Grade 3, $150,000 Rampart Handicap.

Awesome Maria, who had already won the Grade 3 Sabin Handicap earlier in the meet, gave trainer Todd Pletcher his fourth win on the card and jockey John Velazquez his third. Awesome Maria is a 4-year-old daughter of Maria’s Mon owned and bred by the E. Paul Robsham Stables. Unlike in the Sabin when she contested the lead from the outset, Awesome Maria settled nicely just a couple of lengths off the early pace of Persuading, who set honest fractions of 23.61 seconds and 46.80 for the opening half-mile despite trying to bear out briefly around the opening turn.

Awesome Maria launched her bid midway on the second turn, quickly circling and overtaking both Persuading and a struggling Unrivaled Belle leaving the quarter pole. Velazquez dropped Awesome Maria back to the rail after drawing clear in early stretch with the pair steadily extending their advantage to the wire.

Successful Song slipped through on the inside to briefly challenge Awesome Maria entering the stretch but proved no match while finishing 2 1/4 lengths clear of a tiring Unrivaled Belle to finish second.

Awesome Maria completed the distance in 1:49.09 seconds and paid $3.80.

“She’s trained so well since coming down here,” said Pletcher. “She was an exceptionally good 2-year-old but for whatever reason she wasn’t training as well in New York at 3. But she’s found herself in Florida and turned herself inside out this winter. The way she’s been training I thought it was possible she could do what she just did out there today.”

Pletcher said the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park on June 18 is his next major objective with Awesome Maria.

“I might run her once in between, maybe in the Shuvee, but she also runs well fresh so we could just wait and go right to the Phipps,” he said.

The Grade 2 Shuvee will be run at Belmont on May 21.

Unrivaled Belle, the defending Rampart champion but often a handful both to saddle and during the post parade, was given special permission by the stewards to leave the paddock and enter the racetrack well in advance of the rest of the field. And while she was on her best behavior prior to the race, it was obvious she had little left to challenge the winner after the opening seven furlongs of the 1 1/8-mile Rampart.

"We thought it was possible she could get tired first time out going a mile and one-eighth," said trainer Bill Mott. "It’s kind of stretching it to begin with because that’s about as far as she wants to run. First time out of the box a mile might have been better for us but we want to get to the La Troienne and this was nice timing to do that."

The La Troienne will be run at Churchill Downs on May 6.