10/23/2016 6:12PM

Roca Rojo surges late to take Athenia Stakes


ELMONT, N.Y. - Roca Rojo unleashed a powerful late stretch run to win the Grade 3, $200,000 Athenia Stakes by 3 1/4 lengths Sunday at Belmont Park.

It was the 30th graded stakes on turf win in North America this year for trainer Chad Brown. Thirteen fillies or mares have won graded events for Brown in 2016.

Javier Castellano rode Roca Rojo and two other winners at Belmont Park on Sunday, his 39th birthday. He has a meet-leading 45 victories with one week remaining.

Roca Rojo, a 4-year-old daughter of Strategic Prince, was 4 for 5 entering the Athenia, her graded stakes debut. Her only loss came in the two-turn De La Rose at Saratoga.

She settled into sixth position Sunday, about five lengths off the pace as All In Fun and Means Well jostled on the lead through a half-mile in 49.34 seconds and then were joined by My Sweet Girl through six furlongs in 1:13.98.

Coming to the top of the stretch, Castellano guided Roca Rojo seven wide and into the clear. She sailed past the leaders and drew off as Stormy Victoria outfinished Mexican Gold, also trained by Brown, by a neck for second.

Roco Roja, owned by Sheep Pond Partners, Newport Stables, and Bradley Thoroughbreds, covered 1 1/16 miles over soft turf in 1:43.20. She returned $10.20 as the 4-1 third choice.

“It was a perfect trip,” Castellano said. “European horses tend to come from behind, so I covered her up and tried to save all the ground. When I took her up beside horses, she took off. It was impressive the way she did it today. Everything worked out perfect.”

Said Brown: “Javier really gave her a great trip. She loved the soft turf and was able to settle and finish really strong today. We really like the way she's been developing."

Dragon Bay upsets English Channel
One race earlier, Dragon Bay, a shipper from Woodbine, got passed in upper stretch, but re-rallied under Junior Alvarado to win the $100,000 English Channel Stakes by a half-length over a late-rallying Strike Midnight. It was a head back to Catapult in third.

Dragon Bay, a 26-1 shot trained and owned in part by Simon Stuart, broke on top, but soon settled in third behind Abiding Star and Hockey School.

Dragon Bay made the lead approaching the top of the stretch, but was overtaken by Catapult, under Castellano for Brown. But Dragon Bay came back, regained the lead at the eighth pole, and was beginning to widen before Strike Midnight came with a belated run to cut into the margin.

Dragon Bay, a Kentucky-bred son of Parading, won for the third time in 13 starts. He covered the mile over soft turf in 1:37.67 and returned $55.50. His victory triggered a $26,466 carryover into Wednesday’s card.

“The horse is a very talented horse,” Simon said. “He just had a bit of bad luck, but he’s a nice horse. I think he can run on anything. He probably is a little better on the turf, but he trains great on the dirt, too.”