With a thrilling late run through the final furlong, heavy favorite Gorella ran down pacesetter Pommes Frites to win the $300,000 Just A Game Handicap (gr. IIT) over Belmont Park's yielding turf course. French-bred Gorella pocketed her first North American stakes victory, adding to her group II win in France a year ago.
Gorella, a 4-year-old daughter of Grape Tree Road--Exciting Times, by Jeune Homme, is owned by Martin S. Schwartz and is conditioned by Patrick Biancone. She was bred in France by EARL Elavage de la Source.
Biancone said Gorella would be pointed to Arlington Park's $750,000 Beverly D (gr. IT) Aug. 12.
Pommes Frites broke alertly from the field, down to four runners with the scratches of Wend and Bright Abundance, and crossed over to lead by eight lengths in the first-half mile while setting modest fractions of :24.94 and :48.89. Pommes Frites maintained her wide lead over her three foes and led by seven lengths going into the turn of the one mile Just A Game. But coming off the bend, Gorella -- last most of the way under Julien Leparoux -- began closing in. Pommes Frites held her off until the final 30 yards, when Gorella passed her, winning by a neck in 1:37.14.
"I was just patient," Leparoux said. "My filly does exactly what I ask her to do. At the top of the stretch, I thought it was the right time to ask her for run, and she responded."
Gorella, whose worst races have come on heavy ground, paid $3.20 and $2.40 while carrying top weight of 120 pounds. Pommes Frites, ridden by Cornelio Velasquez, returned $3 while 7 1/4 lengths clear of the third-place finisher Ozone Bere and javier Castellano. Mirabilis trailed. There was no show betting.
"Julien ran a great race," said Biancone. "With only four runners, it was a little harder for us. We knew Pommes Frites would be in front. If we chased her and went too fast early carrying top weight, that could have hurt us. She needs to be ridden covered up. She needs to see daylight as late as possible. To me, she is the best grass filly in the country."
Gorella raced in France until last fall and has won five of 14 career races while earning $758,209. An accomplished miler, she has finished first, second, or third seven times in eight career starts at the distance. Gorella finished third in last year's NetJets Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. I), three-quarters of a length behind Artie Schiller.
"The winner is a very nice horse," said Bill Mott, who saddled Pommes Frites. "I thought it was advantage `us' when they were turning for home. She ran hard, but when Gorella came up next to her, she didn't have any fight left."