by Brian Bohl
Augustin Stable’s Xenobia opened up a lead by the half-mile mark and repelled a late charge from Sweet Bye and Bye in the rain to post a 1 ½-length victory in Sunday’s Grade 3, $200,000 Athenia for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up at Belmont Park.
A group stakes winner in her native Ireland, Xenobia registered her first North American win in three starts in a successful graded stakes debut, staying off the lead early as 45-1 Candy Store led the eight-horse field through an opening quarter-mile in 23.67 seconds on inner turf labeled firm.
Xenobia, guided from the outside post by under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, was urged up and took command, with a half-mile going in 47.46 and continued to gain separation, opening a six-length lead with three-quarters in 1:10.85.
Velazquez kept Xenobia under a drive in the stretch as Sweet Bye and Bye and Andina Del Sur made late bids from the outside. The 5-year-old Falco mare completed 1 1/16 miles in a 1:41.21 final time, earning her first win under the care of trainer Jonathan Thomas.
“We were hoping he [Velazquez] would go ahead and be aggressive,” Thomas said. “Assertive is probably the right word. She’s a big, galloping filly and I thought the rain would really help us today because she likes a little cut in the ground. It was a beautiful ride. His ride into the first turn was a masterpiece. That’s where I think he won the race.”
Off at 7-1, Xenobia returned $16.40 on a $2 win wager. She improved her career bankroll to $246,606. The winner of the Group 3 Brownstown in July 2018 at Fairyhouse Racecourse won four of her first 10 starts in Europe before shipping across the Atlantic, starting her North American career with a fourth-place finish against allowance company on June 23 at Belmont before running second to Scottish Jig in a 1 1/8-mile turf route on September 15 on the same track.
With Velazquez on the call for the first time, Xenobia posted her first win in more than 15 months.
“She got to the lead and put her ears up,” Velazquez said. “They were coming at her but she was running at the same time, so I was comfortable that she was at least finishing. Talking to Jonathan, he thought she probably needed her last race. That helped her stepping up to this race and it worked out perfect. I just happened to get to her at the right time.”
Sweet Bye and Bye, trained by Steve Klesaris, edged Andina Del Sur by a half length for runner-up honors.
“She broke very well,” said Sweet Bye and Bye jockey Jose Ortiz. “At the half-mile pole, I wanted to get going but it was hard in the soft ground. I had to wait a little later than I wanted, but no excuses. The winner was very good today.”
Victorine, 8-5 favorite Simply Breathless, Candy Store, Matty’s Magnum and Pepper Sprout completed the order of finish. Arabella Bella was scratched.
The final week of the Belmont fall meet will start Wednesday with an eight-race card. First post is 1:15 p.m. Eastern.