Athens Queen reigns supreme in Astoria

ELMONT, N.Y. – Considered the lesser half of an uncoupled entry from trainer Wesley Ward by the betting public, Athens Queen asserted her superiority over a contentious group of 2-year-old fillies in the 107th running of the $150,000 Astoria on Thursday at Belmont Park to kick off the stakes action at the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival.

Breaking from the outermost post 8 under Albin Jimenez, Athens Queen stalked the leading duo of Wonder Stone, Ward’s more fancied entrant, and even-money favorite Tijori through splits of 22.06 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 45.53 for the half. Racing three-to-four wide around the bend, the Majestic Warrior filly gradually wore down the top two through the stretch and held off a late bid from Lady Apple and Eyeinthesky to prevail by a neck.

“She’s learning a lot and she surprised me in the end when she kept going and got away,” said Jimenez, who notched his first stakes victory in New York. “My plan was to break and go, but it didn’t work that way. But she seemed comfortable being behind. She looked great and kept going.

“One of my dreams was to win a big race here, and I did it,” he added. “I know the history of this place, so absolutely, it’s special.”

The win also continues an incredible hot streak at Belmont for Ward, who has now won with 12 of 31 starts at the current meet, as well as maintains the exceptional win rate the Kentucky-based trainer has enjoyed with 2-year-olds so far this year.

Owned by James Reiley McDonald, Athens Queen returned $24.40 on a $2 win wager and completed the 5 ½ furlongs in 1:05.37. The $87,000 winner’s share of the purse bumps her career earnings to $123,000.

After slipping through the rail at the top of the stretch and launching a menacing rally, Lady Apple, making her first start with trainer Steve Asmussen, finished second, a half-length in front of Eyeinthesky, who was hung wide around the turn but came with a good run.

“She’s a very nice filly,” Asmussen said of Lady Apple. “We’re obviously pleased to have the opportunity to train her and I think she’s going to be very nice in the future.”

Tijori, Wonder Stone, and Six Pack Gal completed the order of finish.

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