Athena bursts from the pack to land Belmont Oaks for remarkable O'Brien
Report: USA, Saturday
Belmont Park: Belmont Oaks Invitational Stakes (Grade 1) | 1m2f | turf | 3yo fillies
Mendelssohn may not have entered the Belmont winner's enclosure, but Aidan O'Brien and Ryan Moore did – with the tough as they come Athena bursting from the pack to give her trainer a sixth top-level success of the year.
Appropriately for a horse named after the goddess of war, Athena is a gritty, battle-hardened fighter with enough heart for an entire army. She also happens to be the latest example of O'Brien's unbelievable intuition when it comes to his horses.
Athena did not drop her maiden tag until the last day of May, at the seventh time of asking. Since then she had finished fourth in the Ribblesdale at Royal Ascot and third ten days later in the Pretty Polly at the Curragh – on her seventh start of 2018.
Almost any other trainer on the planet would have given the filly a well-earned break, but instead O'Brien popped her on a transatlantic flight to turn out again a mere six days later in her third different country, on a different continent and time zone to positively run away with a Grade 1 and greatly enhance her potential as a broodmare.
A three-parts sister to 2014 Irish Oaks heroine Bracelet, Athena blitzed her rivals by two and a half lengths to claim the $1 million (£752,560) contest.
Moore, quoted on bloodhorse.com, said: "There was no real plan, to be honest. She's a very straightforward filly. These Camelots seem to be coming into themselves now. He's had a lot of very good horses very quickly. She couldn't have done better.
"She's taken her racing very well. I rode her before the start of the year and all she's done is improve tremendously."
Given she was allotted an official rating of 82 after her first run this season and then was promptly beaten 22 lengths on her next start, Moore is not wrong.
"I don't think it was a surprise because she travelled here well and Donnacha [O'Brien, who rode her last time] wasn't hard on her when she ran last week at the Curragh," said O'Brien's travelling head lad TJ Comerford.
"Six days later, a mile and a quarter on hard ground is probably her trip. She can probably go a bit further as well, but it's great to get her going at a mile and a quarter and she can go a mile and a half in time.
"She's won over a mile and a quarter, and she does it impressively. She didn't look like she was stopping."
The Marco Botti-trained Capla Temptress did not enjoy the best of luck in running under Javier Castellano, finishing seventh of the ten runners.
Also on Saturday
Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes (Grade 1) | 1m2f | turf | 3yo
Athena may have sauntered to success but Catholic Boy (Jonathan Thomas/Javier Castellano) was forced to dig incredibly deep and mine every ounce of himself to land the Belmont Derby.
The Pennine Ridge [Grade 3 trial at the track over a furlong shorter] winner was headed inside the last two furlongs by his trial victim Analyze It, but battled back dourly to get his head in front again by the line.
It was the only bit of him that was in front with Aidan O'Brien's Royal Ascot winner Hunting Horn a further length and three-quarters back in third.
Robert LaPenta, the majority owner along with Sol Kumin of Madaket Stables, Siena Farm, and Twin Creeks Racing Stables, said: "Oh my God. He is such an amazing animal. His heart is huge. It's immeasurable. It's beyond comprehension that he came back to win again. I'm sure 99 out of 100 horses would have packed it in [during] the stretch."
LaPenta suggested the Travers could be next for the son of More Than Ready.
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