Juddmonte Farms’ homebred Aviate, fresh off an impressive victory in the May 7 Distaff Turf Mile Stakes (gr. IIT) at Churchill Downs, figures to be the favorite in the June 11 Foxwoods Just a Game Stakes (gr. IT) at Belmont Park. The one-mile race, worth $400,000, is for fillies and mares and will go off at approximately 4:43 p.m. on the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) day undercard.
A win by Aviate would give Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott a second consecutive win in the race and his fifth overall. He won it last year with Juddmonte’s Proviso. Like Proviso, Aviate began her career in Europe. Unable to earn a placing in four attempts in group company in England, Ireland, and France with trainer Henry Cecil, Aviate was third in her United States debut in the March 5 Honey Fox Stakes (gr. IIIT). Both of Aviate’s U.S. efforts have come at the Just a Game trip.
A 4-year-old filly, Aviate is a daughter of Dansili out of the Irish River mare Emplane. Kent Desormeaux will ride and break from post 2 in a field of nine.
“(Her development this year) couldn’t have been better,” said Mott. “We’ll see on Saturday if it continues and gets us to where we want to go. Having a grade I would be wonderful.”
While Aviate is the 5-2 morning-line favorite, Augustin Stable’s Fantasia, third in the Distaff Turf Mile, is the second choice at 7-2.
Fantasia was fifth, beaten just two lengths, in last year’s Just a Game. The late-running 5-year-old by Sadler's Wells—Blue Symphony, by Darshaan, came from more 11 lengths off the the pace in the Distaff Turf Mile, falling 1 3/4 lengths short of catching Aviate. In her previous start, Fantasia ran a good second to Never Retreat over a yielding turf course in Keeneland’s Jenny Wiley Stakes (gr. IIT) at 11/16 miles.
Trainer Graham Motion hopes to get the day off on the right foot with Team Valor International’s Gypsy Warning. Motion and Team Valor will later try to win the Belmont with Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner Animal Kingdom. Gypsy’s Warning, a South African-bred 6-year-old mare has only been out once this year, running seventh in the Jenny Wiley. In late November of last year she won the Matriarch Stakes (gr. IT) at Hollywood Park. Julien Leparoux has the mount.
“I should have scratched her, in hindsight, because she likes firm ground,” said Motion of the jenny Wiley. “It was the only bad race she’s run and even that wasn’t that bad. We’re expecting good things Saturday.”
Trainer Jim Toner, who has the best 3-year-old turf filly in the land with Winter Memories, will saddle 4-year-old Much Rejoicing for AJ Suited Racing Stable. The daughter of Distorted Humor , out of the champion turf female Soaring Softly, prepped for the Just a Game in the six-furlong Gila Stakes at Belmont May 13. After tracking the pace, she pulled away to a 11/2-length advantage in her turf debut. She had made four of first seven starts on synthetic surfaces.
"Strange as it seems, (the Glia) was the first time we got to run her on the grass, which we had been waiting to do for a while,” said the 4-year-old’s trainer, Jimmy Toner, who also conditioned Soaring Softly. “Fortunately, she responded to it as we thought she would, so we’re happy about that. We’re jumping in the water here, stepping up off the overnight stakes, but we think she’s capable, and this is a good time to find out.”
Alan Garcia has the call aboard Much Rejoicing, 12-1 on the morning line, from post 8.
$400,000 Foxwoods Just a Game Stakes (gr. IT, 4:43 p.m. EDT), Fillies and Mares 3YO and up, One Mile (Dirt)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Trainer, Odds
1. Gypsy’s Warning, J. Leparoux, G. Motion, 5/1
2. Aviate, K. Desormeaux, W. Mott, 5/2
3. Amen Hallelujah, J. Velazquez, R. Dutrow Jr., 6/1
4. C. S. Silk, J. Castellano, D. Romans, 6/1
5. Strike the Bell, R. Dominguez, D. Donk, 12/1
6. Fantasia, J. Rosario, J. Sheppard, 7/2
7. Cherokee Queen, A. Solis, M. Wolfston, 8/1
8. Much Rejoicing, A. Garcia, J. Toner, 12/1
9. Justaroundmidnight, G. Gomez, P. Biancone, 20/1