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Belmont At The Big A Preview | Athenia Stakes 2023: Chad Brown Pursues Record 8th Victory
Credit: Michael Spector

Belmont At The Big A Preview | Athenia Stakes 2023: Chad Brown Pursues Record 8th Victory

Four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown will be in pursuit of a record-extending eighth victory in Friday’s $150,000 Athenia when he sends out multiple graded stakes winners Technical Analysis and Fluffy Socks as well as stakes-winner Beaute Cachee for the 46th running of the nine-furlong inner turf test for fillies and mares 3-years-old and upward at Belmont at the Big A.

The Athenia, which honors Hal Price Headley’s four-time stakes-winner in the 1940s, has been won by Brown with Pianist [2013], Roca Rojo [2016], Off Limits [2017], Rymska [2018], Tapit Today [2020], Pocket Square [2021] and Love And Thunder [2022].

The Athenia is slated as Race 7 on Friday’s nine-race program, which also features the $135,000 Cheley Flower and the Grade 3, $200,000 Bold Ruler. First post is 12:35 p.m. Eastern. 

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Head of Plains Partners’ Kentucky homebred Fluffy Socks [post 3, Irad Ortiz, Jr.], a 5-year-old Slumber mare, brags field-high earnings of $1,074,580 with graded stakes scores earned at ages two, three and five. During her juvenile season, Fluffy Socks won the Grade 3 Jimmy Durante at Del Mar before taking the following year’s Grade 2 Sands Point at Belmont Park. After a winless season in 2022, which included three graded placings, she made her 5-year-old debut a winning one in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Distaff Turf Mile on May 6 at its namesake track.

Fluffy Socks enters the Athenia from a runner-up finish in the Grade 2 Mohegan Sun Ballston Spa on August 24 over the Saratoga Race Course inner turf, where she made up a dozen lengths to finish a head behind Evvie Jets, who exited that race to finish third in the Grade 1 First Lady on October 7 at Keeneland.

Fluffy Socks rerouted to the Athenia when the Noble Damsel was postponed due to rain and ultimately run on the main track on October 8 with the Brown-trained Gerrymander earning a decisive win.

“She’s had a great career, a very consistent horse,” Brown said. “She was very unlucky getting rained out of the Noble Damsel. We tried all month long and it didn’t work out, so we’re bringing her back in here.”

Klaravich Stables’ Technical Analysis [post 6, Jose Ortiz] is just over $20,000 shy of millionaire status through a record of 15-7-4-1 including four graded stakes scores.

The 5-year-old Kingman mare enters from a close fifth as the favorite in the Grade 2 Ballston Spa – a race which she won last year. The Athenia will see Technical Analysis, who broke her maiden at the Big A in November 2020, return to the Ozone Park oval for the first time since finishing second in the Plenty of Grace last April.

Michael Dubb, Madaket Stables and Louis Lazzinnaro’s Beaute Cachee [post 4, Manny Franco] will pursue a second straight stakes conquest after capturing the listed Violet on September 2 at Monmouth Park.

The French-bred Literato gray won her 4-year-old debut in a 1 1/16-mile allowance on May 26 over the Belmont inner turf, where she raced an even second while chasing a slow tempo before collaring the pacesetting Union Dolly in deep stretch to win by a nose.

“She got rained out of an allowance at Saratoga late in the meet, so we sent her down to Monmouth and she ran a nice race,” Brown said.

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Trainer Graham Motion will send out Augustin Stable and Catherine Parke’s Grade 1-placed Sparkle Blue [post 1, Javier Castellano], who will be in pursuit of her fourth stakes victory at as many tracks.

The 4-year-old Hard Spun dark bay captured the Christiana last July at Delaware Park and the Grade 3 Valley View last October at Keeneland before completing the trifecta in the Grade 1 American Oaks in December at Santa Anita Park. Two starts ago, Sparkle Blue won the Big Dreyfus on July 15 at Laurel Park by 2 1/4 lengths over multiple graded stakes-placed Atomic Blonde en route to a last-out second in the Grade 3 Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf on September 9.

“Last time, when we shortened her up to do the mile at Kentucky Downs. It was a huge effort. I thought she was terrific,” Motion said.

Bred in Kentucky by co-owner Catherine Parke, Sparkle Blue is out of the multiple black type producing Smart Strike mare Silk n’ Sapphire who produced 2010 Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Shared Account – the dam of 2019 Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf victress Sharing. Both were also trained by Motion, who said Sparkle Blue should develop even more with time.

“I think she is [improving with age]. There’s every reason to think she could even be better next year,” Motion said. “I think she wants to go a mile and an eighth and that’s probably her best distance. I wouldn’t be afraid to try her a mile again or a mile and a half, but I really think the mile and an eighth is a great trip for her.”

Trainer Christophe Clement will strive for his fifth Athenia conquest when he saddles Brazilian Group 1-winner Evidencias [post 7, Kendrick Carmouche] for her North American debut.

The 4-year-old daughter of 2010 Belmont Stakes winner Drosselmeyer won last August’s Group 1 Henrique de Toledo Lara going nine furlongs at Ciudad Jardim in her native Brazil two starts before scoring in her dirt debut in the Group 2 25 de Janeiro in January going 10 furlongs at the same course for her former conditioner Emerson Garcia.

Evidencias breezed a half-mile in 49.77 seconds Thursday over the Belmont main track.

“She had a good work with Carmouche. He liked the work and liked the filly,” Clement said. “It’s a little bit ambitious, but at this time of the year we don’t have much choice. A mile and an eighth seems to be a good distance for her. I just hope she’s good enough, but I guess we’ll find out.”

Bred by Haras Old Friends, Evidencias is out of the Kingmambo mare Fiji Mambo, whose dam Fiji was a dual Grade 1-winner on turf in the late 1990s for Hall of Famer Neil Drysdale.

“She [Fiji] was a wonderful turf mare and she’s by Drosselmeyer, who won the Belmont Stakes, so she should stay,” Clement said. “If the ground is a bit on the soft side, I think she should handle it well.”

Al Shira’aa Farms’ Miss Dracarys [post 5, Dylan Davis] will return to the site of her stakes victory for Hall of Fame trainer Neil Drysdale after capturing last November’s listed Forever Together at the Big A.

The 5-year-old Malibu Moon mare defeated graded stakes winner Evvie Jets in that event before arising from a nine-month respite to capture the Grade 2 Dance Smartly on August 20 at Woodbine Racetrack. She will attempt to make amends following an uncharacteristic sixth in Woodbine’s Grade 2 Canadian on September 9.

Completing the field are:

  • Paladin of PA and Fox Tale Racing Stable’s stakes-placed Pennsylvania homebred Eight Danzas [post 2, Katie Davis] for trainer Alan Bedard
  • Stonestreet Farms’ graded stakes placed Favor [post 8, Jose Lezcano] for Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher
  • The Elkstone Group’s Australian-bred Uncorked [post 9, Jairo Rendon], who has finished in the money in all five of her North American starts for trainer Brittany Russell