Antonoe (First Defense) and jockey Javier Castellano win the Just a Game (Gr I) at Belmont Park 6/10/17. Trainer: Chad Brown. Owner: Juddmonte Farms
Sassy Little Lila did all she could to take the G1 Longines Just A Game field wire-to-wire, but a bold move by Javier Castellano in the stretch had Antonoe flying up the rail in the final sixteenth to cross the wire a three-quarters of a length in front. A Juddmonte-owned 4-year-old daughter of First Defence, Antonoe was making just her second start in the United States for new trainer Chad Brown. Over the firm turf at Belmont Park, she covered a mile in 1:32.12.
“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,” Brown said. “I confess that at the three-eighths pole, even the quarter-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. It looks like Roca Rojo never really fired today on this turf. I’ll have to evaluate her.”
Both Dickinson and Celestine were quick out of the gate, but Sassy Little Lila and Luis Saez jumped up to take the lead heading out of the chute. She set fractions of :23.70 and :46.92 while 1 1/2 lengths in front of Celestine, with Dickinson tracking well in third and Harmonize in fourth. Roca Rojo was very rank and difficult to settle in sixth, and Antonoe was last of the seven-filly and mare field all the way through to the head of the lane.
Dickinson and Celestine drew even around the far turn, but Sassy Little Lila was game to keep her two-length advantage as she straightened into the stretch. Celestine bumped with Dickinson early, but Dickinson recovered to take on Sassy Little Lila in the final eighth of a mile. Castellano, meanwhile, had to wait until the field straightened for home to find any running room, and he boldly swung Antonoe to the rail at the eighth pole.
Antonoe responded with a thrilling turn of foot to sweep up the inside and take over in the final yards, crossing the wire three-quarters of a length in front. Sassy Little Lila won a photo with Dickinson for second, and Harmonize was fourth.
“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 [and] save all the ground the best I could. She cut the corner turning for home. It worked in the finish. You don’t see too many horses that [can do] the way she did today. 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.”
Bred in Kentucky by Millsec, Ltd., Antonoe began her career in France, winning a Group 3 in her second career start. She struggled thereafter until placed with Chad Brown in 2017 in the United States, which saw her rally to win an allowance race at Keeneland. The Just A Game is Antonoe’s first Grade 1 win, and her second graded stakes win overall, improving her record to four wins from eight starts and earnings of over $ 500,000.
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