Pianist strikes the right note in G3 Athenia victory
By Jenny Kellner | 10/12/2013 06:24 PM ET
Taking over as the field turned for home, Pianist opened up through the stretch and had plenty left to turn back a late bid from Abaco and win the 36th running of the Grade 3, $200,000 Athenia on Saturday afternoon at Belmont Park.
With 20-year-old jockey Jose Ortiz aboard for the first time, Pianist settled in second, no more than a length off Assateague as she led the field of seven turf fillies and mares through opening fractions of 24.65, 47.23 and 1:10.10. Asked for run on the turn, the 4-year-old More Than Ready filly assumed command at the top of the lane and dug in through the final furlong to cross under the wire two lengths in front.
Pianist's time for 1 1/16 miles was 1:39.94 over a firm Widener turf course as she earned the second graded stakes score of her career.
"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," said Ortiz. "The last time [Pianist] ran she followed Laughing. She did pretty good as she finished second [in the Grade 2 Ketel One Ballston Spa] to Laughing, who is going to the Breeders' Cup. I tried to ride the same race, and everything went the right way."
Samitar, the even-money favorite, was 1 ¼ lengths back in third.
Trained by Chad Brown, who also conditions Samitar, the well-traveled Pianist opened her 2013 campaign with an allowance victory and a fifth-place finish in the Grade 2 Honey Fox, both at Gulfstream Park. She then traveled to Pimlico Race Course to win the Grade 3 Gallorette Handicap on May 13, was third in the Grade 3 Dr. James Penny Memorial Handicap at Parx Racing and second by a neck to Laughing in the Grade 2 Ketel One Ballston Spa at Saratoga Race Course.
"This year, Pianist has been outstanding for us," said Brown's assistant, Cherie DeVaux. "I think she ran similarly to last time. Jose watched the replay of that race, and watched her sit off Laughing and she hung in there. He did the same thing today, and it worked out."
The 5-2 second choice, Pianist returned $7.90 for a $2 win bet and earned $120,000, boosting her bankroll to $498,450 for Hidden Brook Farm and Dan Zucker. Overall, she is 6-2-2 from 13 career starts.
Finishing fourth was Ruthenia, who was followed under the wire by Assateague, My Perfect Ten and Embarr. Main track only entrants Lady Cohiba, Moment in Dixie and Royal Lahaina were scratched.