Hours after upsetting the Epsom Derby (G1) with 16-1 shot Adayar and placing third with Hurricane Lane, Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby dominated Saturday’s $500,000 Just a Game S. (G1) at Belmont Park. Homebred Althiqa rallied up the rail to defeat frontrunning stablemate Summer Romance and garner her first Grade 1 laurel. Trainer Chad Brown’s trio failed to make the top three.
Appleby’s day could have been even better had Rebel’s Romance been able to contest the Belmont S. (G1) as planned. Although he was ruled out earlier in the week by a hind leg infection, Godolphin still has the Belmont favorite in the Brad Cox-trained Essential Quality. And Appleby gained compensation courtesy of Althiqa and Summer Romance.
The complexion of the race changed when Blowout, the expected pacesetter, scratched. That left Summer Romance as the speed of the field, and she almost got away with a wire job. Comfortably alone through fractions of :23.43, :46.90, and 1:10.46 on the good Widener turf, Summer Romance held sway well into the stretch.
The one danger came from her own yard. Althiqa, under patient handling by Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith, was closing from well back in the pack. Smith took the inside route and found just enough room to sneak between Summer Romance and the fence.
The two grays looked set to battle it out, but Althiqa outkicked her companion by three-quarters of a length. The 7.40-1 chance, who covered the mile in 1:33.90, rewarded her backers with $16.80.
“She’s got a big heart and she’s very, very honest, so she’s going to run good,” Smith said of Althiqa.
“I was actually going to tip out, but she kind of leaned in like she wanted to drop to the fence, so I just let her. It was a small hole, but (Appleby) told me she had a big heart and she got on through there. She might suit American racing really well. We might want to keep her here.”
Summer Romance’s rider, Luis Saez, believed that she was on her way to victory.
“She ran pretty hard,” Saez said. “I thought we were going to win. She never gave up. She came into the stretch running and then Mike Smith came really fast. We just got caught. She never gave up and she tried to the wire.”
Summer Romance, off at a similar 7.20-1, was 1 3/4 lengths clear of the 12.30-1 Daddy Is a Legend. Regal Glory, the 3.75-1 second choice, fared best of the Brown brigade in fourth, followed by the barn’s 5-2 favorite, Pocket Square. Zofelle, Always Shopping, Abscond, Brown’s other hope Tamahere, and New York Girl concluded the order of finish. Sweet Bye and Bye was withdrawn along with Brown’s aforementioned Blowout.
British-bred Althiqa, never unplaced in her career, sports a mark of 10-5-2-3, $461,830. The Dark Angel filly earned her first stakes victory in last summer’s Prix Amandine at Deauville, and she also placed in the Eternal S., Oak Tree S. (G3), Prix de Lieurey (G3), and Sceptre S. (G3).
Upping her game when resuming in the Dubai World Cup Carnival, Althiqa rolled in the Jan. 28 Cape Verdi S. (G2) where Summer Romance tired to fifth. Summer Romance turned the tables with a soft lead in the Feb. 18 Balanchine S. (G2), with Althiqa closing for third. The Just a Game resembled the race shape of the Cape Verdi, and Althiqa is now up 2-1 in their rivalry.
Appleby, speaking to the NYRA press office from England, said that the fillies could remain stateside for Saratoga:
“We’re obviously delighted with it and we knew we had two competitive fillies. It’s one of those days when we prepped well, I was confident they would run a big race and they justified it. They are two fillies who ran well over the winter in Dubai in Group 2s – one won the Balanchine and the other won the Cape Verdi – and they came out there to America and put it to the sword again.
“It’s a great effort by the team there and we might think about leaving them there for Saratoga. Althiqa hit the line strong enough and she wasn’t stopping. It was an opportunity to get a Group 1 and luckily we did.”
The four-year-old Althiqa was produced by the stakes-winning Shamardal mare Mistrusting, who is in turn a daughter of 2009 Cherry Hinton (G2) heroine and Cheveley Park (G1) runner-up Misheer.