ELMONT, N.Y. – Celestine reaffirmed her fondness for the Widener turf with a scintillating victory in Saturday’s Grade 1, $700,000 Longines Just a Game at Belmont Park, shattering the previous stakes record and missing the course mark by a mere .01 seconds.
While Celestine was very good winning two stakes here last year after being transferred to Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, the 4-year-old Scat Daddy filly entered a new dimension Saturday, blazing one mile in 1:31.64 seconds to easily best Tapitsfly’s clocking of 1:32.34 in 2012. The course record of 1:31.63 was established by the Mott-trained Elusive Quality in the 1998 Poker Stakes.
Celestine broke alertly with Junior Alvarado and raced closest to pacesetter La Berma, who set fractions of 23.36, 46.13 and 1:09.63. After wresting command in the upper stretch, she moved away readily to report home by 3 ¾ lengths over rail-skimming second choice Recepta.
“It was a dream trip,” said Alvarado. “With this kind of filly, she has speed and she can stalk a little bit, too. As soon as she broke, she broke very beautifully and after that I was just sitting on her. I waited until we turned for home to ask her. I couldn’t ask for a better trip than that. It was like everything was just going perfect.”
Celestine paid $17 to win as the fourth choice in the field of 13 fillies and mares, and the winner’s share of $375,000 nearly doubled her previous earnings for owner James A. Bryan Jr. Overall, she is now 6-2-1 from a dozen starts, with a perfect 3-for-3 record on the Widener course.
“This was very impressive,” said Mott, who has now won the Just a Game five times, beginning with the inaugural running in 1994 with Elizabeth Bay. “She’s gotten better as time goes on. She just drew away from a good field. We were one-hundredth of a second slower than the course record of Elusive Quality, who I also trained. That was a world record at the time.”
Mrs McDougal, the slight favorite in the field of 13 fillies and mares, rallied to get third over the Mott-trained Lady Lara, who raced in foal.
The order of finish was completed by Faufiler, Prize Exhibit, Rainha Da Bateria, Strike Charmer, La Berma, Lexie Lou, Tapitry, Irish Rookie and My Miss Sophia.
The Longines Just a Game (G1) Quotes
Bill Mott, winning trainer of Celestine (No. 8) along with fourth-place Lady Lara (No. 13) and 13th-place My Miss Sophia (No. 5): “This was a very impressive. She’s [Celestine] gotten better as time goes on. She just drew away from a very good field. She’s pretty fast. She tracked that filly today. She’s rating well. She was very comfortable where she was in the race. I thought my other filly, My Miss Sophia, was in good shape and Lady Lara (in foal to Uncle Mo) was a little wide up on the outside and was fourth where she finished.”
“We were one-hundredth of a second slower than the course record of Elusive Quality, who I also trained. That was a world record at the time.”
“I don’t know what’s next for her. I haven’t looked past tomorrow.”
On beating a high quality field even though champion turf mare Tepin and Miss Temple City are at Ascot: “They might be lucky they were over there today.”
Junior Alvarado, winning jockey of Celestine (No. 8): “It was a dream trip. With this kind of filly, she has speed and she can stalk a little bit, too. As soon as she broke, she broke very beautifully and after that I was just sitting on her. I waited until we turned for home to ask her. I couldn’t ask for a better trip than that. It was like everything was just going perfect.”
“I was expecting that because she was good. The first three strides when I asked her to run, I said, ‘This is over.’ There was no way any horse could be running faster than her. I just got her home. She just carried me all the way to the wire today.”