Castellano guides Antonoe to dominate Just a Game victory
By Jim Mulvihill for NYRA press office
Antonoe won Belmont Park’s Grade 1 Longines Just a Game in her first U.S. stakes for trainer Chad Brown. Coglianese PhotographyELMONT, N.Y. – In her first stakes attempt since Juddmonte Farms sent her to the United States under the care of Chad Brown, the 4-year-old filly Antonoe charged up the rail to dominate Saturday’s 24th running of the Grade 1, $700,000 Longines Just a Game for older females on a firm Widener turf course on Belmont Stakes Day at Belmont Park.
Last at the quarter-pole, jockey Javier Castellano angled inside, where he had a wide berth to make one explosive run. Antonoe kicked past the field to win by three-quarters of a length over Sassy Little Lila, completing the mile in 1:32.12.
A Group 3 winner in France as a juvenile, Antonoe started her season in April with an easy allowance win at Keeneland. The daughter of First Defence had gone off form as a 3-year-old and the Longines Just a Game was her first win since September 2015.
Breaking from the outside in a field of seven, Antonoe settled in last as Sassy Little Lila set the pace through fractions of 23.70 seconds, 46.92 and 1:09.75. Celestine, last year’s Just a Game winner, tracked in second but never fired in the lane. With Castellano biding his time, Antonoe was still six lengths back at the top of the stretch.
“We got the post on the outside and I had to let her go a little bit because she didn’t show a lot of speed,” Castellano said. “I had to ride her European style, a lot of patience, save all the ground the best I could. She cut the corner turning for home and it worked in the finish. You don’t see too many horses that can win the way she did today.”
A Juddmonte homebred, Antonoe improved her record to 8-4-0-1 and raised her career earnings to $491,377. Off at 3-1, the winner paid $8.20 for a $2 win wager.
“I don’t think that I’ve ever had a horse in my training career come home that fast on turf, at any distance, at any level,” said Brown. “I confess that at the three-eighths pole, even the quarter-pole, I was a little concerned. My horses were last and second-to-last. I didn’t see a scenario where they’d be able to close that much ground on a quality field in front of them. This filly was very impressive today to make up that much ground.”
Sassy Little Lila got second by a nose in a photo with Dickinson. The order of finish was completed by Harmonize, Celestine, Prize Exhibit and favored Roca Rojo.