In her first race since defeating West Coast males in the Frank E. Kilroe Mile Handicap (gr. IT) three months ago, Proviso takes on streaking fillies Phola and Speak Easy Gal in the $400,000 Just a Game Handicap (gr. IT) on the Belmont Park Widener turf course June 5.
There are six older filly and mare entrants in the one-turn mile event and only five betting interests with the coupled Farnsworth Stables entry of Cherokee Queen and Speak Easy Gal, who has won four races in a row since joining trainer Marty Wolfson's stable in Florida. The Just a Game is the seventh race on the Belmont Stakes undercard with a probable post of 3:16 p.m. EDT.
Juddmonte Farms' British homebred Proviso has not raced since March 6 when she split foes in deep stretch and got up in time to nose Fluke in a dandy Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita. The 5-year-old Dansili mare is used to spacing her races, so the layoff shouldn't hurt her. The 8-5 morning line favorite, trainer Bill Mott she has been targeting this race for Proviso and she has been training at Belmont since early May.
The Kilroe was Proviso's first start on grass in four races in the United States since she was transferred from France last fall. A group III winner at Longchamp and also group I-placed in France, her previous U.S. starts were on synthetic tracks. She debuted with a win in the Spinster Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland but was disqualified and placed second for shying in deep stretch and interfering with Mushka. She then ran fourth in the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic (gr. I) and second in the Santa Monica Handicap (gr. I), both at Santa Anita.
Proviso began her American career with the late Bobby Frankel and is now with Mott, who last won the Just a Game with My Typhoon in 2007. He also won the race in 2005 with Sand Springs and in the inaugural running in 1994 with Elizabeth Bay.
Proviso, nearing the $1 million mark in career earnings with $925,473, has captured six of 19 starts with eight other in-the-money finishes. Mike Smith, who rode her for the first time in the Kliroe, has the return engagement and they break from the far outside post.
Phola, trained by Todd Pletcher for his father Jake and other partners, has won three races in a row. The streak includes the March 13 Hillsborough Stakes (gr. IIIT) over good ground at Tampa Bay Downs and the Distaff Turf Mile (gr. IIT) over a yielding Churchill Downs turf in her most recent race May 1. This will be her first opportunity in a grade I event.
The 4-year-old daughter of Johannesburg rallied six wide from last in the field of seven to score impressively by 1 1/4 lengths at Churchill. Phola retains the services of jockey Ramon Dominguez, who rode her in both of her most recent wins. Phola boasts a lifetime mark of 5-2-2 in 11 races while banking $330,163.
Proviso and Phola, the 3-1 second choice, each carry top weight of 120 pounds, two more than the rest of the well-matched field.
Winner of the 1 1/2-mile Orchid Stakes (gr. IIIT) on a good Gulfstream Park grass course March 28, Speak Easy Gal most recently captured the April 24 Capital Request Florida Thoroughbred Charities Stakes over state breds in building her current streak for Wolfson. She'll be ridden by Javier Castellano, who replaces Elvis Trujillo. Speak Easy Gal was previously trained by Gary Contessa.
Wolfson said he is confident that Speak Easy Gal, who will break from post 4, will dictate the pace.
“When I ran her in the (Orchid), I felt confident because she has speed and can control it,” said Wolfson. “She’s very fast, and there’s not a lot of speed in (the Just a Game); that’s why I’m bringing her up.”
Wolfson also trains Cherokee Queen, who comes off a neck win as the choice in the Hollywood Wildcat Handicap at Calder Casino and Racetrack and picks up Garrett Gomez to ride here. The entry is listed at 7-2.
Augustin Stable’s Fantasia makes her third U.S. start following a fourth-place finish behind Phola in the Distaff Turf Mile. She was a group III winner at Newmarket last year. She also ran second in the Meon Valley Stud Fillies' Mile (Eng-I) as a 2-year-old and third in the group I Poule d’Essai des Pouliches (French 1000 Guineas) at 3.
The 4-year-old daughter of Sadler's Wells has broken slowly in both stateside efforts, including a second in a Keeneland allowance April 11.
“She breaks slowly, but I don’t mind that because I don’t want her on the pace anyway,” said trainer Jonathan Sheppard. “In Europe, they don’t break fast because it doesn’t matter as much. She has been trained to race behind horses. The ground was soft (in her last start), and we hope she’ll perform better over firm ground.”
Rajiv Maragh hops aboard Fantasia, who is 5-1 on the morning line and will break from post 5.
My Princess Jess, winner of the Beaugay Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Belmont for trainer Barclay Tagg in 2009, completes the field. Cornelio Velasquez has the mount aboard My Princess Jess, who bids to end a five race loss string. She is 4-1 on the early line.
$400,000 Just a Game Stakes (gr. I, Race 7, 3:16 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 3 & Up, 1 Mile (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. a-Cherokee Queen (KY), G K Gomez, 118, M D Wolfson
2. My Princess Jess (FL), C H Velasquez, 118, B Tagg
3. Phola (KY), R A Dominguez, 120, T A Pletcher
4. a-Speak Easy Gal (FL), J Castellano, 118, M D Wolfson
5. Fantasia (GB), R Maragh, 118, J E Sheppard
6. Proviso (GB), M E Smith, 120, W I Mott
a- Farnsworth Stables entry