If there is a downside to having a talented turf distaffer in the barn of four-time Eclipse Award winner Chad Brown, it’s the fact that when the time comes for them to dive into deeper waters, they’ll likely have to outkick several of their own barn mates in order to reach the wire first.
Exhibit A for such a case is Juddmonte homebred Pocket Square (GB), who is slated to be joined by three stablemates when she faces top-level competition for the first in the Grade 1, $500,000 Longines Just a Game Stakes at Belmont Park on June 5. While the chestnut filly’s toughest rivals on Saturday may be friendly ones, the fact she has already held her own in the morning hours is a part of the reason she earned this place in the starting gate.
Pocket Square is part of the quartet of Brown trainees set to go to post in the 12-horse Just a Game field and, while the daughter of Night of Thunder (GB) is the least seasoned of the bunch, she would be as logical a victor as any in what looks to be a wide-open edition of the one-mile turf test.
A Group 3 winner in France, Pocket Square impressed in her North American debut this April when she rallied to capture a 1 1/16-miles allowance race by 2 ¼ lengths at Keeneland. It was the kind of strong impression her connections planned on her making the year prior when she was sent over last summer with designs on showing up in the $500,000 Saratoga Oaks Invitational. After her flight got held up on the tarmac, however, Pocket Square had her stateside debut further delayed when she colicked on the way to Saratoga.
“Unfortunately, she got held up on the black top in Chicago on the way in and when she got up to Saratoga, she was colicking and had to have colic surgery so we had a lot of misfortune with her,” said Garrett O’Rourke, general manager of Juddmonte Farms. “So we gave her the time off and brought her back and sent her to Chad in the early spring and since she came back, he said she’s been absolutely training lights out.
“It’s her first real step up to the big time. But usually when Chad says they’re doing good – he’s got a lot of top-class horses in the morning to compare them to –I am being given confidence by virtue of his confidence.”
One contender doing especially well of late for Brown is Peter Brant’s Blowout (GB), a gate-to-wire winner of the Grade 2 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile last out at Churchill Downs. A daughter of Dansili, Blowout had run second in four straight races heading into the Distaff Turf Mile, led by a nose loss in the Grade 1 Matriarch in November at Del Mar.
“(Jockey) Flavien (Prat) really gets along with her well,” Brown said. “We saw that in the Matriarch. He has great hands and she can be difficult, but he really gets along with her and timed it right. She likes this track very much. She ran one of the best races I’ve ever had a horse run in defeat that day (in the Grade 3 Noble Damsel, September 26), when she got away from Johnny (Velazquez) and went 44 (seconds for the half-mile) and kept going. I don’t know how she was still there at the end. If she can settle at all, she has a good closing kick. She has run well on good ground in the past, but I prefer for it to be firm.”
Brown is also set to send out Grade 3 winner Regal Glory, fourth in the Just a Game last year and winner of the Plenty of Grace Stakes in her seasonal bow, as well as Grade 2 Sands Point-winner Tamahere (FR), who kicked off her season with a respectable second in the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley at Keeneland on April 10.
Althiqa closed from last to land the one-mile Group 2 Cape Verdi in late January, knocking off her favored stablemate, who tired to fifth after making the running. Summer Romance would make amends three weeks later in the nine-furlong Group 2 Balanchine, running the field off its feet in gate-to-wire fashion. Althiqa checked in third.
While Althiqa is a homebred who has steadily ambled her way up the ranks, Summer Romance—an $898,800 daughter of Kingman and half-sister to multiple Group 1 winner Rizeena—has been held in slightly higher regard.
“They all travelled over well and have trained well since they’ve been there,” Appleby said. “There’s been a little rain and the track’s very wet this weekend. The fillies are fit and well and have plenty of experience under their belt. The reason we went to America is they carry Group 2 penalties here in Europe for the forthcoming season and the Group 1 older fillies races aren’t until later in the year, anyway, so we thought it might be a good opportunity to get a Grade 1.”