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Hard to Justify won the 2023 Miss Grillo Stakes (G2) at Belmont at the Big A, a “Win & You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, giving trainer Chad Brown his record 10th win in this race.
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Wise Racing’s Hard to Justify asserted her talents in her stakes debut when pouncing to victory in Wednesday’s Grade 2, $200,000 Miss Grillo, a 1 1/16-mile inner turf test for juvenile fillies, at Belmont at the Big A.
For her victory, the daughter of Justify was awarded a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf on November 3 at Santa Anita Park.
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Trained by four-time Eclipse Award-winner Chad Brown, Hard to Justify provided Brown with a record-extending ninth win in this event and his first since Selflessly in 2019. The bay remains undefeated through two lifetime outings, adding to a strong debut victory from off the pace when taking a 1 1/16-mile maiden on July 23 at Saratoga Race Course by a head over Appellate, who scratched from this race and is entered in Keeneland’s Grade 2 Jessamine on Friday.
Ridden to victory by Flavien Prat, Hard to Justify emerged from the inside post and was away sharpest of all before Camila T swept past to her outside to take command through an opening quarter-mile in 23.93 seconds and the half-mile in 50 flat over the firm footing.
“From the inside, I didn’t want to be shuffled back and the rail is out and I didn’t want to be too far [back],” Prat explained. “She jumped super and showed some good speed, so it was great.”
Hard to Justify maintained comfortable stalking position down the backstretch with Life’s an Audible along the rail in third and Whimsically keeping close watch in fourth before the latter came under a ride approaching the turn and Camila T was asked for her best run from Carlos Olivero after three-quarters in 1:14.37.
Whimsically went three-wide under a drive from Junior Alvarado and came to even terms with the advancing Hard to Justify, who put her head in front of a stubborn Camila T at the top of the lane and battled on gamely to take a clear advantage at the eighth pole.
Whimsically valiantly gave chase down the center of the course but was met with a challenge from Life’s an Audible, who angled around foes and had dead aim on Hard to Justify, but could not reel in her foe as Hard to Justify found enough in the final strides to post the half-length victory in a final time of 1:43.92.
Life’s an Audible inched clear of Whimsically to secure place honors by one length with post-time favorite Gala Brand, who was last-of-11 down the backstretch, weaving her way through traffic late to round out the superfecta. Memorialize, Gold Lightning, Later Darling, Sierra Sky, Steel Lute, Dancing Spirit and Camila T completed the order of finish.
2023 Breeders’ Cup
Prat said Hard to Justify dug in gamely when presented with the challenge from Whimsically.
“Turning for home, as soon as that horse came alongside of me she really engaged and switched gears,” said Prat. “From there, I thought she got the job done.”
Hard to Justify provided Prat with his first victory in this event and has won both of her starts with him at the helm. Prat said he knew his filly learned greatly from her narrow victory last out.
“The first race, she broke OK and then I let her sit back. After that, I had to check at the three-eights, going into the last turn,” Prat said. “I thought that race she had every right to get beat and she didn’t, so I thought it was impressive and I was expecting a good run today.”
Bred in Kentucky by Yeguada Centurion SL, Hard to Justify was a $190,000 purchase at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale and is out of the graded stakes-placed Quality Road mare Instant Reflex. She banked $110,000 in victory and returned $16.60 for a $2 win wager.
The Todd Pletcher-trained and Repole Stable-owned Life’s an Audible made her stakes debut off a second-out graduation on September 2 at Saratoga where she made her first start on turf in a 5 1/2-furlong sprint. Irad Ortiz, Jr., who has ridden the daughter of Audible in each of her three starts, said his filly was second best today.
“I had a good trip. The pace was a little slow, but she did everything right,” said Ortiz, Jr. “The winner broke better than me and got better position than me, so I just followed them. It was a slow pace, but I had a perfect trip up to that.”
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