ATHENIA STAKES | PURSE: $200,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS & UP | FILLIES & MARES | GRADE 3 | 1 1/16 MILES (TURF)
Pianist put away pacesetter Assateague in upper stretch and scurried home two lengths in front for her second graded win of the year in the $200,000 Athenia Stakes oct. 12 at Belmont Park.
Hustled into position soon after the start by jockey Jose Ortiz, a patient Pianist played perfectly just off Assateague, who provided a solid pace after crossing over to the lead from the far outside post. After getting the lead, Pianist opened up by three lengths mid-stretch and held sway as the late-running Abaco charged home for second. The runner-up was 1 ¼ lengths better than even-money pick Samitar, who raced in third at every call while finishing willingly.
Chad Brown saddled the winner for owners Hidden Brook Farm and Dan Zucker, as well as the favorite in the field of seven older fillies and mares.
Pianist, sent off as the second choice at odds of nearly 3-1, was timed in a good 1:39.94 for the 1 1/16-mile distance on a firm Widener course. It was the third victory of the year for the 4-year-old daughter of More than Ready, who captured the Gallorette Handicap at Pimlico Race Course on the Preakness undercard May 18.
The winner, out of the Red Ransom mare Red Piano, was bred in Kentucky by Grapestock -- the breeding operation for Tom Simon's Vinery -- who sold her for $100,000 as a Keeneland September yearling in 2010. Red Piano's dam, Spinet (by Nureyev), is a half sister to Irish champion miler Prince of Birds.
Ruthenia finished fourth in the Athenia while Assateague, who carved fractions of :24.65, :47.23, and 1:10.10 while leading at the hedge, faded to fifth. My Perfect Ten and Embarr completed the order.
Pianist won for the sixth time in 13 lifetime starts, extending her career earnings to $498,450 while carrying top weight of 123 pounds. She was coming off a game second by a neck to the streaking Laughing in the Ketel One Ballston Spa Stakes in her most recent start Aug. 24 on the inner turf at Saratoga Race Course.
"She didn't break the way I wanted her to because my plan was to go to the front, so I made my move outside [Luis] Saez [aboard Assateague] and followed him," Ortiz said. "The last time [Pianist] ran she followed Laughing. She did pretty good as she finished second to Laughing, who is going to the Breeders' Cup. I tried to ride the same race, and everything went the right way."
The winner paid $7.90, $4.60, and $2.50 while keying an exacta that was worth $45.60. Phipps Stable's Abaco came from about 10 lengths behind at the half-mile point to register a good second under Joel Rosario, returning $5.50 and $3.20. Martin Schwartz's grade I winner Samitar, coming off a minor stakes win at Saratoga Sept. 1, was $2.20 to show with Javier Castellano aboard.
Three horses were entered for the main track only: Lady Cohiba, Moment in Dixie, and Royal Lahaina.