James A. Bryan Jr.'s Celestine crushed her 12 filly and mare rivals in the Grade 1 Longines Just a Game Stakes at Belmont Park Saturday, winning the one-mile turf contest by 3 3/4 lengths and giving Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott his fifth victory in the 23 runnings since the race was inaugurated in 1994. Under jockey Junior Alvarado, the 4-year-old filly by Scat Daddy covered the distance in 1:31.64 on firm turf, missing Elusive Quality's course record by one-hundredth of a second. She carried 121 pounds as the co-highweight in the $700,000 event.
Recepta finished second, with Mrs. McDougal a length back in third and a second Mott runner, Lady Lara, finishing fourth.
Celestine was first out of the gate but allowed La Berma to show the way through fractions of :23.36 for the first quarter and :46.13 for the half. Celestine tracked the leader from second, and after six furlongs in 1:09.63 darted to the lead and quickly drew clear for the victory.
“That was very impressive,” said Mott, who also trained Elusive Quality when he set the course record. “She's gotten better as time goes on. She just drew away from a very good field.”
“The first three strides when I asked her to run, I said, 'This is over,'” said Alvarado. “There was no way any horse could be running faster than her. I just got her home. She just carried me all the way to the wire today.”
Bred in Kentucky by Phoenix Rising Farms, Celestine was purchased for $100,000 in the name of Bryan's Phaedrus Flights at the 2013 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. She was entered in the following year's OBS June Sale of 2-year-olds in training, where she was bought back for $975,000. The Just a Game was her first Grade 1 victory, her fifth stakes win and sixth overall from 12 career starts. She was coming off a wire-to-wire victory at Gulfstream Park in the G2 Honey Fox on April 2.
Mott's previous victories in the Just a Game came in the inaugural running with Elizabeth Bay, Sand Springs (2005), My Typhoon (2007) and Proviso (2010).
The trainer said he had no immediate plans for the Just a Game winner. “I haven't looked past tomorrow,” he said.
Missing from the Just a Game were two top-notch turf mares, Tepin and Miss Temple City, who are racing at Royal Ascot in England next week. “They might be lucky they were over there today,” Mott said.
Watch the race replay here:
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