Sand Springs surprises in Just a Game.

Sand Springs surprises in Just a Game.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Gritty Sand Springs in Just a Game Upset

Sand Springs took the lead early and held off the late run by heavy favorite Intercontinental to spring the upset in the $300,000 Emirates Airline Just a Game Breeders' Cup (gr. IIT) Saturday at Belmont Park.

Trainer Bill Mott is having a big Belmont meeting with a better than 30% win rate and a victory in the the Flash Stakes (gr. III) a day earlier with Beacon Shine. He has 12 wins so far at Belmont.

Sand Springs was purchased from Willmott Stables, who bred the filly in Kentucky, by the Sangster Family Stable and turned over to Mott. She was previously trained by Tony Reinstedler. She had made four starts for Mott with two wins and a second. She won the Honey Fox Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Gulfstream in March and, in her most recent outing, was beaten a length in the Distaff Turf Mile (gr. IIIT).

By Dynaformer out of the Storm Bird mare Lovely Martha, the 5-year-old mare was ridden in the Just a Game by John Velazquez. She drew off to win by 2 1/2 lengths. The final time was 1:33.05 for the mile on firm going.

"She's tough to handle in the morning and tough to ride in the afternoon," Mott said. "But looking back, this was all well worth it. I know that Johnny (Velazquez) is used to handling tough horses, so I felt comfortable with him being on this mare.

"I was concerned about the pace," Mott added, "but she relaxed and was racing within herself. I was more impressed with the way she opened up at the end."

Velazquez said he was looking for Sand Springs' comfort level.

"I wanted her to be wherever she was comfortable," Velazquez said. "If you try to fight her, she tries to run off and drifts out. Once she got into a comfortable rhythm, she was fine. When I asked her to run, she was there for me."

Please Take Me Out took the lead out of the gate but Sand Springs was right there on the outside dictating the pace. By the time the field had gone a quarter mile, Sand Springs had the lead. They went the quarter in :23.56 and the half in :46.52.

Intercontinental, last year's Just a Game winner sent off at 7-10, made a run on the outside as the field cornered for home after completing six furlongs in 1:10, but the outcome was never in doubt.

Wonder Again, who was making her first start of the year and needs more distance, closed for third with Edgar Prado aboard.

Intercontinental is trained by Bobby Frankel and was ridden by Jerry Bailey.

"She just didn't fire," Bailey said. "She had the pace in front of her. She was a little wide on the turn, but she's the best horse in the race. She should overcome that."

Sand Springs ran the mile in 1:33.05 and paid $17.40, $4.80, and $3.40. Intercontinental returned $2.60 and $2.40 while Wonder Again paid $3.

Asti finished fourth, followed by Fortunate Damsel, Mambo Slew, Changing World, Riskaverse and Please Take Me Out. Forty Marchana scratched.

(Chart, Equibase)