March 4, 2024

Celestine, Dickinson square off in deep Just a Game

Celestine accelerated away from her foes to defend her title successfully in the 2017 Honey Fox (Lauren King/Coglianese Photography)

Celestine turned in a sparkling performance on Belmont Stakes Day 2016, cruising to a 3 3/4-length victory in the $700,000 Just a Game (G1) while completing the mile in 1:31.60 over a fast-playing turf. On Saturday, the Scat Daddy mare will attempt to do it all again in her title defense of the Just a Game, which attracted a field of seven fillies and mares.

Making just two starts the rest of the year, finishing third in the First Lady (G1) and 12th in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1), Celestine was acquired by Moyglare Stud for $2.55 million at the Keeneland November Sale. Moved from Bill Mott to Christophe Clement, the daughter of Scat Daddy kicked off this term with wire-to-wire wins in the $100,000 Sand Springs and Honey Fox (G2), both at Gulfstream.

“She’s been very well going into the Just a Game, which is great. We’ll see what happens,” Clement said. “She’s two-for-two [for us] and she’s top class. It’s great because Moyglare bought her a broodmare prospect, and they did that with Discreet Marq a few years ago.”

After a season-opening loss in the Marshua’s River (G3), her only loss to date on turf, Dickinson has reeled off three straight graded wins, including a mild upset of Lady Eli in the Jenny Wiley (G1) at Keeneland for Godolphin and trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.

“We kept thinking she was dirt because (her dam) Little Belle was dirt,” McLaughlin said. “She’s gotten really good since we switched her to the turf. She could easily be six-for-six.”

Trainer Chad Brown has two for the Just a Game, including Roca Rojo, who exits a win on soft ground in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G2). Five-for-seven since her importation from Ireland, Roca Rojo captured the Athenia (G3) at Belmont last fall and just missed in a photo to Miss Temple City in the Matriarch (G1) at Del Mar in December.

Brown also has French Group 3 winner Antonoe, who captured her U.S. debut against allowance foes at Keeneland April 14.

“We ran her at Keeneland and have waited to run her back to get her freshened up a bit,” Brown said. “Running in an allowance race into a Grade 1 is not my normal move [but] this filly seems like she has exceptional talent. She’s already a group winner in Europe, and her number in that race [at Keeneland] was good and she projects to move forward here. We’re going to give it a shot.”

The field is rounded out by Grade 1 winner Harmonize, multiple Grade 2 veteran Prize Exhibit, and American Oaks (G1) runner-up Sassy Little Lila, who comes off a season-opening allowance win at Churchill.

Christophe Clement also has two leading contenders in the $300,000 Jaipur (G3) in defending titlest Pure Sensation and Disco Partner, who ran his stablemate to a half-length in last year’s edition that was clocked in a swift 1:06.60 for six furlongs on the turf.

Also winner of the Parx Dash (G3) and $150,000 Belmont Turf Sprint last term, Pure Sensation rallied for third in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) and then traveled to Asia for the Hong Kong Sprint (G1), only to be scratched due to lameness. He made his season debut in the TwinSpires Turf Sprint (G3) on May 5, but finished fourth over soft ground. Disco Partner, meanwhile, opened his 2017 account with a 1 3/4-length score in the $150,000 Elusive Quality going seven furlongs in late April.

Undrafted, who captured the 2014 Jaipur and the Diamond Jubilee (G1) at Royal Ascot the following year, enters this renewal off a sharp allowance win at Keeneland going 5 1/2 furlongs April 21, while Stormy Liberal invades from California off four consecutive stakes wins over Santa Anita’s downhill course.

Globetrotting Green Mask, who earned a belated first graded score TwinSpires Turf Sprint, looks to improve on his seventh in last year’s Jaipur following a slow start. Grade 3 winner Hogy, now eight, is capable turf sprinter based in the Midwest, and was most recently third in the Shakertown (G3) at Keeneland to Holding Gold. The latter, who registered an 18-1 upset in that heat, might not have handled the soft going in his follow-up appearance in the TwinSpires Turf Sprint.