By MICHAEL COMPTON
What was expected to be a showdown between returning stakes stars Royal Delta and Awesome Maria in the Sabin Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park on Saturday turned into a procession by the time the field hit the far turn in the 1 1/16-mile event.
Stalking the early pace of Canadian Mistress and Groupie Doll down the backstretch, Awesome Maria stormed to the front around the far turn, opened up on the field at the head of the lane and cruised to the wire a comfortable winner over Eclipse Award champion Royal Delta.
Sent off as the 4-5 favorite, Awesome Maria covered the distance in 1:42.82 in capturing her eighth victory in 13 lifetime starts for E. Paul Robsham Stables and trainer Todd Pletcher. The Sabin was her first start back from a condylar fracture suffered last summer.
“Naturally, we had some concern coming off a June layoff and carrying topweight that she might need a prep, but she’s top class and got it done,” said Pletcher, whose 5-year-old trainee captured the 2011 Sabin by nearly five lengths and is perfect in three races at Gulfstream.
John Velazquez piloted the winner.
“I planned on sitting third anyway, but I didn’t plan on it being a start like that. She broke slow but it worked perfect. She settled in down the backside and then I gave her her head and she took off,” Velazquez said. “She was very impressive off the layoff today. Good to have her back.”
Royal Delta made steady progress under Jose Lezcano to get up for second by a head over Groupie Doll.
“It’s not a surprise. The other filly is a good filly and we got a good race in our filly. About the time she settled it was time to go. With the short wire, she wasn’t going to beat the winner today,” said trainer Bill Mott, referring to the alternative finish line instituted for 1 1/16-mile races that is shortens the stretch run by a sixteenth of a mile.
Awesome Maria, a striking daughter of Maria’s Mon, entered the walking ring looking like she was cranked up for her return. Pletcher said Awesome Maria would likely seek a repeat victory in the Rampart (G3) at Gulfstream on March 31.
Despite Royal Delta’s loss, Mott expects the effort to benefit the Besilu Stables’ 4-year-old filly in her next start against colts in the 1 ¼-mile $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 31.
“I think it was a very similar race to what she ran in the Beldame before she won the Breeders’ Cup. She ran second and came back to run very well,” said Mott, whose filly lost by more than eight lengths in the Beldame before scoring by 2 ½ lengths in the Ladies’ Classic. “I think the 10 furlongs is going to be to her benefit and we know that she runs well on synthetic surfaces, which they have in Dubai. I’m really not at all disappointed because we’re going to a totally different race next time.”