Phillips Racing Partnership’s Winter Memories, fresh off a 2012 debut win May 5 in the Beaugay Stakes (gr. IIIT), squares off against Emory Hamilton’s Hungry Island in the $500,000 Longines Just a Game Stakes (gr. I) on the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) undercard June 9.
The Just a Game, for fillies and mares, serves as race 8 on the 13-race card at Belmont Park and the first leg of a $1 million guaranteed all graded stakes Pick 4.
The mile race over the main turf course is by no means a two-horse race. Also figuring in the mix is Frank Jones Jr.’s Tapitsfly, who finished just a length behind Hungry Island last time out in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile Stakes (gr. IIT) on the Kentucky Derby undercard also on May 5.
Winter Memories, a homebred daughter of El Prado out of the grand racemare Memories of Silver, is trained by Jimmy Toner. The 4-year-old gray/roan filly is four-for-four on the Belmont turf including a win last fall in the nine-furlong Garden City Stakes (gr. IT). She was given the winter off after a disappointing fourth-place finish at Keeneland in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes (gr. IT). Her return in the 1 1/16-mile Beaugay was impressive as jockey Eddie Castro pushed her through a tight seam at the head of the lane before she drew off to win by 2 1/4 lengths as the 9-10 favorite.
“She came out of the (Beaugay) very well and she’s coming into the race as well as can be expected,” Toner told the New York Racing Association’s press office. “I think we’ll be OK with the (one-mile) distance. We started out at a mile and a sixteenth at Belmont around 1 ½ turns. We’ve been pointing to this race. I know the race is a mile and that’s why we didn’t want to do two turns right off the bat with her. I don’t think cutting back to a mile will be a drawback.”
Winter Memories has a 7-1-0 mark from 10 starts with $808,100 in earnings. She'll be reunited with jockey Javier Castellano in the Just a Game.
Hungry Island was fourth, beaten just 1 3/4 lengths in last fall’s Garden City, then third to Marketing Mix in her 2011 finale, the Mrs. Revere Stakes (gr. IIT) at Churchill. Marketing Mix won Woodbine’s Nassau Stakes (Can-IIT) June 2.
This year Hungry Island started her season with a middling third in an allowance on the turf at Keeneland, then popped in the Distaff Turf Mile, closing strongly under John Velazquez.
“Our plan was to give her the winter off, and then the (allowance) race came up in Lexington,” said trainer Shug McGaughey. “It was like a stakes race, but it was an allowance race and it was the first time Johnny had ridden her. I think the second time (in the Distaff Turf Mile) he really knew her.”
McGaughey thinks the daugher of More Than Ready is better going longer.
“I don’t think a mile is her best distance but I’m looking forward to running her Saturday and I’m looking forward to stretching her out,” he said.
Tapitsfly makes her first start at Belmont since running second in an off-the-turf renewal of the Miss Grillo Stakes in October 2009. She then won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Santa Anita. The Just a Game will be her fifth start of the season. Prior to the runner-up effort to Hungry Island under the Twin Spires the homebred daughter of Tapit was third in a paceless Jenny Wiley Stakes (gr. IT) and won the Honey Fox Stakes (gr. IIT) at Gulfstream at the Just a Game trip.
The Just a Game is named for Peter Brant’s champion grass female of 1980. The Irish-bred daughter of Tarboosh won seven graded/group stakes in a five-season racing career, taking Atlantic City’s Matchmaker Stakes (gr. IIT), Saratoga’s Diana Handicap (gr. IIT), and the Flower Bowl Handicap (gr. IIT) in her championship season.
Longines Just a Game Stakes (gr. IT), Belmont Park, $500,000, June 9, fillies and mares, 3-year-olds and up, one mile, turf (Race 8, post 3:59 p.m. EDT).
PP, Horse, Jockey, Wgt., Trainer, ML
1, Tapitsfly, R. Dominguez, 120, D. Romans, 3-1
2, Sylvestris, M. Smith, 118, R. Barbara, 20-1
3, Wallis, J. Lezcano, 118, C. Clement, 15-1
4, Winter Memories, J. Castellano, 120, J. Toner, 6-5
5, Hungry Island, J. Velazquez, 120, S. McGaughey, 5-2
6, Dancinginherdreams, C. Nakatani, 118, B. Mott, 12-1
7, Up In Time, J. Rosario, 118, S. Callaghan, 12-1