Coffee Clique and jockey Javier Castellano won a nose bob over longshot Strathnaver for an upset win in the Longines Just a Game Stakes (gr. I) on the June 7 Belmont Stakes undercard at Belmont Park (VIDEO).
In posting a sixth victory in her 11th career start, Coffee Clique paid $11.60, $6.50, and $4.30. Strathnaver, off at 17-1, was worth $15.80 and $8.60, with Somali Lemonade paying $5.60.
The Just a Game was expected to be another showdown between Stephanie's Kitten and Better Lucky, the respective first- and second-place finishers in the 2013 edition of the Just a Game.
Somali Lemonade and jockey Luis Saez had other ideas, however, as they jumped out to the early lead and set a moderate early fraction of :23.44 before picking it up, getting a half-mile in :46.45 and 1:10.29 for six furlongs while pressed by Unlimited Budget.
As Unlimited Budget began to fade, Somali Lemonade continued to lead while three wide, with Discreet Marq, the slight favorite off consecutive grade I second-place finishes, taking up the chase. Coffee Clique, meanwhile, was laying fourth through most of the race before being swung out in the stretch for her run, with Discreet Marq issuing a strong challenge before flattening out.
Strathnaver, a British-bred daughter of Oasis Dream, was eighth early before finding her best stride entering the stretch. After pausing briefly, the 5-year-old mare was swung to the outside by jockey Mike Smith and closed with a rush, just missing at the wire.
Stephanie's Kitten lagged in the two path early and was five wide in the stretch to close well for a fifth-place finish as the 7-2 second choice. Better Lucky stumbled at the start, was in the six path, and had no late rally.
"A grade I absolutely is the pinnacle for her," Lynch said. "She's a homebred, which makes that family so valuable, and she's just such a courageous filly. Just thrilled to see her dog it out like she did.
"It's a world title match to be here today, to compete against this competition. But as I've always said, winning form is good form. She had won two in a row, she fit here today, and she ran like she belonged. God bless her."
"I had a beautiful trip; it set up perfectly," Castellano said. "I had a perfect spot in the race, exactly what I was looking for. Three horses went out for the lead and I was covered up all the way in the race. When my filly took off, she came with a big run.
"It was hard to tell (if I won the photo) in the heat of battle. It was a very emotional race."
"She ran brilliantly," Smith said of Strathnaver. "I want to see the photo. I'm really disappointed, I thought I got there, but evidently I didn't. She ran a tremendous race, I rode her just like Graham (Motion) told me to, sit and give her one short run. I'm just dumbfounded."
"I'd feel a little bit better if that wasn't such a tough beat," said Motion. "I told Mike not to rush her, and I wouldn't second guess him if he waited too long to move. She ran a great race, and he gave her a great ride."
Coffee Clique has earned $817,488. Previous to the Just a Game, the filly won the Churchill Downs Distaff Turf Mile (gr. IIT) May 3.
Coffee Clique was produced from the Royal Academy mare Miss Chapin, a winner of her lone start. She was bred and is raced by the Amermans. Miss Chapin, out of the French-bred stakes winner Society Dream whom the Amermans acquired in the late 1990s, delivered a filly by Mizzen Mast April 16.
Winner of a $100,000 allowance/optional claiming race going a mile on the turf March 26 at Gulfstream Park in her 2014 bow, Coffee Clique raced in four graded stakes last year.
She ran fourth in the Herecomesthebride Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Gulfstream last March, then ran in three graded races at Woodbine. She won the Selene Stakes (Can-III) on Polytrack and ran fourth in the Dance Smartly Stakes (Can-IIT), and third in the Ontario Colleen Stakes (Can-IIIT) on turf.