Tapitsfly wired a tough field June 9 in the 19th running of the $500,000 Longines Just a Game Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park, holding off even money favorite Winter Memories in the stretch (VIDEO) for a 2 1/4-length triumph .
The 5-year-old daughter of Tapit captured her first grade I stakes in the one-mile contest on the Widener turf course.
Trained by Dale Romans and ridden by Ramon Dominguez, Tapitsfly took the lead soon after the break and took the seven-horse field through brisk early fractions of :23.47 and :46.44. She didn’t back off the pace much going through turn, hitting the six-furlong mark in 1:09.48.
"We were thinking about running at Churchill, but I knew we needed to take on the big girls," Romans said. "Very impressive. A mile is her best distance. She has proven that several times."
Winter Memories made her move coming out of the turn and took aim at the leader but couldn’t catch her, finishing well back in second. The final time was 1:32.34, just under three-quarters of a second off the course record of 1:31.63.
"Looking on paper, there was no speed," said Dominguez. "I was pretty happy when I got to the paddock and Dale said to me, 'Try to put her on the lead.' It worked out beautifully. She relaxed for me. Turning for home, she gave a great kick."
Hungry Island finished 1 3/4 lengths behind Winter Memories in third.
Winter Memories' last race at Belmont was in the Sept. 17 Garden City Stakes (gr. IT), which she won by a neck over Theysken's Theory. Phillips Racing Partnership's daughter of El Prado was four for four at Belmont, all in graded stakes.
Jim Toner, trainer of Winter Memories, said he was concerned prior to the race because speed had been holding on the turf course.
"Take nothing away from (Tapitsfly); she ran a freaky race," Toner said. "We got outrun by a better horse today. It's a tough division."
Tapitsfly was bred and is owned by Frank Jones Jr., who has been in the racing business for more than 30 years.
"Frank Jones, my father trained for him when I was born, so it's always good to win for him," Romans said. "Plus, I bought her mother for him as a race filly. It's been good. She's like a member of the family."
The winner came into the Just a Game off a second place finish in the grade II Churchill Distaff Turf Mile Stakes on the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) undercard May 5. She finished a length behind Hungry Island that day. Her first graded stakes win came March 18 at Gulfstream Park where she won the Honey Fox Stakes (gr. II).
Tapitsfly paid $8.40, $3.70, and $2.70. Winter Memories paid $3 and $2.30, while Hungry Island paid $2.70. The $2 exacta paid $21.60, and a $2 trifecta paid $39.20.