Juddmonte Farms’ Ventura sat patiently off the pace, slipped through along the hedge at the head of the lane, and pulled clear to win the $400,000 Just a Game Stakes (gr. IT) (VIDEO) June 7 at Belmont Park. The victory came by three-quarters of a length over a fast-closing Lady of Venice. Time for the one-mile race over a “firm” Widener Turf Course was 1:32.75.
Ventura, a homebred from Khalid Abdullah’s operation in Kentucky, is a dark bay or brown 4-year-old filly by Chester House out of the Be My Guest mare Estala. The win was her second stakes win in this country, having taken the seven-furlong Vinery Madison Stakes (gr. II) over Keeneland’s Polytrack April 9.
Bayou’s Lassie broke on top in the Just a Game and set steady fractions of :23.52 and :46.55 while easily skimming the turf under Robbie Albarado. Tracking two lengths off the lead were Sharp Susan and Ventura along the inside under Garrett Gomez. Californian invader Spenditallbaby was also up on the pace.
Bayou’s Lassie held the advantage into the stretch after six furlongs in 1:09.68, but she was overtaken by Ventura, who swept by on the inside. Lady of Venice, much further back early, also came up the inside, but was unable to catch the winner. Lady of Venice finished three-quarters of a length ahead of third-place finisher Forever Together, who was also moving fast along the fence. Bayou’s Lassie held for fourth.
“The other day (May 3) it was like a marsh," Gomez said. "Today, she was in a good spot and when I pointed her, she came home really good.”
Trainer Bobby Frankel said: "I thought the one-turn mile would help her. I think the way the course was soft the lat time, they stayed in the same spot all the way around. Next? Maybe the Cash Call.”
Ventura, who was third behind Bayou’s Lassie and champion Dreaming of Anna last time out in the Distaff Turf Mile (gr. IIIT) at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby day, paid $21.20, $7.90, and $5.80. Lady of Venice returned $4.30 and $3.30 as the favorite, while Forever Together paid $11.20 to show. The exacta was worth $94.
Ventura began her racing career in Europe under the care of Amanda Perrett and scored three moderate wins in seven starts: breaking her maiden at Folkstone last June, winning a minor handicap at Sandown in September, and taking the listed Hyde Stakes on Polytrack at Kempton. She shipped to the U.S. to Juddmonte and won an allowance race down the hillside turf course March 6 for Frankel before going to Keeneland for the Madison.
Sharp Susan finished fifth after being within striking distance the whole way, followed by Bit of Whimsy, Criminologist, Vacare, Spenditallbaby and Then There Eyes.