ELMONT, NY – In her first stakes attempt since Juddmonte Farms sent her to the United States under the care of Chad Brown, the 4-year-old filly Antonoe charged up the rail to dominate Saturday’s 24th running of the Grade 1, $700,000 Longines Just a Game for older females on a firm Widener turf course on Belmont Stakes Day at Belmont Park.
Last at the 1/4-pole, jockey Javier Castellano angled inside, where he had a wide berth to make one explosive run. Antonoe kicked past the field to win by 3/4 of a length over Sassy Little Lila, completing the mile in 1:32.12.
A Group 3 winner in France as a juvenile, Antonoe started her season in April with an easy allowance win at Keeneland. The daughter of First Defence had gone off form as a 3-year-old, and the Longines Just a Game was her first win since September 2015.
Breaking from the outside in a field of seven, Antonoe settled in last as Sassy Little Lila set the pace through fractions of :23.70, :46.92, and 1:09.75. Celestine, last year’s Just a Game winner, tracked in second but never fired in the lane. With Castellano biding his time, Antonoe was still 6 lengths back at the top of the stretch.
“We got the post on the outside and I had to let her go a little bit because she didn’t show a lot of speed,” Castellano said. “I had to ride her European style, a lot of patience, save all the ground the best I could. She cut the corner turning for home, and it worked in the finish. You don’t see too many horses that can win the way she did today.”
Off at 3-1, the Juddmonte homebred Antonoe improved her record to 8-4-0-1 and raised her career earnings to $491,377.
“I don’t think that I’ve ever had a horse in my training career come home that fast on turf, at any distance, at any level,” said Brown. “I confess that, at the 3/8 pole, even the 1/4 pole, I was a little concerned. My horses were last and second-to-last. I didn’t see a scenario where they’d be able to close that much ground on a quality field in front of them. This filly was very impressive today to make up that much ground.”
Sassy Little Lila got second by a nose in a photo with Dickinson. Completing the order of finish were Harmonize, Celestine, Prize Exhibit, and favored Roca Rojo.
Antonoe returned $8.20, $5.60, and $4. Sassy Little Lila brought back $8.40 and $4.80, while Dickinson paid $3.50 to show.
Additional Race Quotes
Trainer Chad Brown, Antonoe and Roca Rojo: “It looks like Roca Rojo never really fired today on this turf. I’ll have to evaluate her.”
Jockey Javier Castellano, Antonoe: “She’s really strong. I’m really happy with how she did today. The way she showed me today, the longer, I think, the better.”
Trainer Brad Cox, Sassy Little Lila: “We were super pleased with the effort. Luis (Saez) did a great job. She had a great trip. Turning for home, I thought she had it. The other filly ran a great race down on the inside, so congratulations to them.
“She’s a nice filly. It was her second race off of a layoff, I’m super excited about this filly and what we have for the rest of the year. She’s a game filly, and she showed it today.”
Jockey Florent Geroux, Roca Rojo: “She never fired at the end. I thought I was too far behind, but the winner was behind me. She worked so hard in her first race, so maybe it took something out of her.”
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, Dickinson: “She ran very well, but the race didn’t develop like we thought on paper. But she ran well and got beat by a nice filly. They flew home very fast. We ran well but just didn’t win. We’ll move on. She’s a Grade 1 filly, for sure.”