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ELMONT, NY – The powerhouse stables of Charlie Appleby and Chad Brown make up half of the 12 stakes winners – including 11 graded/group champions – all seeking their first turf Grade 1 score in Saturday’s $500,000 Longines Just a Game.
The race, held over 1 mile on the Widener turf course, has traditionally showcased some of the best turf females in training, including eight Breeders’ Cup winners.
The Belmont Stakes Racing Festival runs from Thursday through Saturday, June 5, culminating with the 153rd running of the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes (G1) presented by NYRA Bets. The festival will encompass 17 total stakes, including eight Grade 1s on Belmont Stakes Day, capped by the “Test of the Champion” for 3-year-olds in the 1 1/2-mile final leg of the Triple Crown. First post on Belmont Stakes Day is 11:35 a.m. Eastern.
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Appleby has sent out a mere 15 starters in North America since becoming a head conditioner for Godolphin in 2013, but he’s won with five of those and earned more than $2.9 million. A pair of grey 4-year-old fillies with stakes victories during Meydan Racecourse’s 2021 Dubai World Cup Carnival, Althiqa (post 8, Hall of Famer Mike Smith) and Summer Romance (post 9, Luis Saez), deserve plenty of respect shipping over from England.
Althiqa closed from last to land the 1-mile Cape Verdi (G2) in late January, knocking off her favored stablemate who tired to fifth after making the running. Summer Romance would make amends 3 weeks later in the 9-furlong Balanchine (G2), running the field off its feet in gate-to-wire fashion. Althiqa checked in third.
While Althiqa is a homebred who has steadily ambled her way up the ranks, it is clear that Summer Romance—an $898,800 daughter of Kingman and half-sister to multiple Group 1 winner Rizeena—has been held in slightly higher regard.
“They all travelled over well and have trained well since they’ve been there,” Appleby said. “There’s been a little rain and the track’s very wet this weekend. The fillies are fit and well and have plenty of experience under their belt. The reason we went to America is they carry Group 2 penalties here in Europe for the forthcoming season and the Group 1 older fillies races aren’t until later in the year, anyway, so we thought it might be a good opportunity to get a Grade 1.”
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Chad Brown’s quartet is led by Peter Brant’s Blowout (post 11, Flavien Prat), a gate-to-wire winner of the Distaff Turf Mile (G2) last out at Churchill Downs.
A daughter of Dansili and French classic winner Beauty Parlour, she cured a case of seconditis in the process after completing the exacta in a trio of events, led by a nose loss in the Matriarch (G1) in November at Del Mar.
“Flavien really gets along with her well,” Brown said. “We saw that in the Matriarch. He has great hands and she can be difficult, but he really gets along with her and timed it right. She likes this track very much. … If she can settle at all, she has a good closing kick. She has run well on good ground in the past, but I prefer for it to be firm.”
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Brant also entered Regal Glory (post 4, Hall of Famer Javier Castellano), fourth in this last year, as well as Sands Point (G2) winner Tamahere (post 10, Jose Ortiz).
The latter kicked off her season with a respectable second in the Jenny Wiley (G1) at Keeneland on April 10. Owned by Swift Thoroughbreds, Madaket Stables, and Wonder Stables, the daughter of in-form stallion Wootton Bassett appears primed for a top effort.
“This filly would be no shock to win this race, either,” Brown said. “She’s going to really appreciate the cut back to a mile and she loves Belmont. She’s been training very well and is a legitimate contender here.”
Tamahere Strolls in Sands Point
The fourth for Brown is Juddmonte’s Pocket Square (post 6, Irad Ortiz Jr.), who seeks to build off a strong American debut, winning by open lengths at Keeneland on April 7. By smart young stallion Night of Thunder, the chestnut 4-year-old makes her sixth start and owns a stakes win in the Prix des Reservoirs (G3) at Deauville in 2019.
“She’s a pretty good horse and reminds me of some other talented horses I’ve had,” Brown said. “We did this with Antonoe, going from an allowance at Keeneland to the Just a Game, which she won. She’s pretty good and we’re lucky to have her. I think she’s lined up for a good one.
“Interestingly, she shipped over last year to run in the Saratoga Oaks and she had an issue out of quarantine where she needed some time off,” Brown continued. “Fortunately, the team at Juddmonte did a fantastic job and sent her back to us this winter all healed up and healthy. We did our normal move, like (Bobby) Frankel would have done, which is take our time, find an allowance at Keeneland and then go from there. As impressive as she was in that race, she’s come out of it and even taken it up another notch in her workouts. She’s been exceptional.”
The three who finished directly astern Blowout in the Distaff Turf Mile – R Unicorn Stable’s New York Girl (post 12, Junior Alvarado), Heider Family Stables’ Zofelle (post 1, Tyler Gaffalione), and Apogee Racing’s Abscond (post 7, Joel Rosario) – will hope to extinguish said rival this time around.
Joseph Imbesi’s Sweet Bye and Bye (post 2, Jose Lezcano) – second in the Marshua’s River (G3) in January to Zofelle – returns for another try, while Repole Stable’s Always Shopping (post 5, Hall of Famer John Velazquez) is cross-entered in Friday’s New York (G2).
Jim and Susan Hill’s multiple Grade 1-placed Daddy Is a Legend (post 3, Manny Franco), who owns the highest Beyer Speed Figure in the field (102), looks to improve upon her third-place finish in this event in 2019.
The Just a Game is slated as Race 8 on Saturday’s 13-race card.
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