Once a budding juvenile star who didn’t quite pan out in France, Juddmonte Farms’ Antonoe now appears bound for American stardom after her blistering rally in Saturday’s $687,000 Just a Game (G1) at Belmont Park. She now becomes the latest Chad Brown trainee to grab the headlines.
The 3-1 second choice off her U.S. debut score in a Keeneland allowance, Antonoe was patiently handled by Javier Castellano, who anchored her at the rear early. Front-running Sassy Little Lila was rattling off fractions of :23.70 and :46.92, stalked by defending champion Celestine until turning for home. Dickinson, always prominent in a ground-saving third, then launched her bid, but Sassy Little Lila dug in. She also drifted out and carried Dickinson off a true line.
Meanwhile, Castellano steered Antonoe to the wide open spaces on the inside, and the daughter of First Defence suddenly emerged as a menace. Exploding in that final furlong, Antonoe won going away by three-quarters of a length. Trakus recorded her last quarter in :21.53, and a final time of 1:31.80 for the mile over a firm Widener course. The winner’s official time on the chart was 1:32.12.
Dickinson performed with great credit to be beaten less than a length in third. Not only did she just miss in a photo with Sassy Little Lila, who’d herded her and cost her more than her nose margin from second, but she was also spotting the top two eight pounds. Antonoe and Sassy Little Lila carried a mere 113 compared to Dickinson’s 121.
There was a gap of 3 1/2 lengths back to Harmonize, who raced in fourth throughout. Celestine, under top weight of 123 pounds, tired to fifth. Prize Exhibit and Roca Rojo rounded out the order under the wire.
Originally trained by Pascal Bary, Antonoe also started out in life as a front runner. She dominated her debut at Deauville, then added the Prix d’Aumale (G3) to stamp herself as the leading French contender for the 2015 Prix Marcel Boussac (G1). Unfortunately, she injured her pelvis en route to finishing seventh on the Arc undercard. Antonoe was subsequently unable to recover her form as a three-year-old. After a third in the 2016 Prix de la Grotte (G3), she sank to 12th in the French 1000 Guineas (G1). An early summer break didn’t help, as she wound up 11th in the Prix de Lieurey (G3), and soon embarked for a fresh start in the U.S. with Brown.
Antonoe was bred in Kentucky by Millsec Ltd. Her dam, the unraced Dynaformer mare Ixora, was exported to South Africa in 2015. This is the family of Group 1 winner Mutual Trust and current Winter Derby (G3) hero Convey. Antonoe’s third dam is Group 1 vixen All at Sea, from the further female line of Hall of Famer Damascus.
Saturday was a banner day for the family at Belmont. Another branch was responsible for Woody Stephens (G2) romper American Anthem and Belmont S. (G1) third Patch.
Quotes from Belmont
Winning trainer Chad Brown on Antonoe: “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. 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 (Roca Rojo). 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. It looks like Roca Rojo never really fired today on this turf. I’ll have to evaluate her.”
Winning rider Javier Castellano: “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. 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. It worked in the finish. You don’t see too many horses that [can do] the way she did today. She’s really strong. I’m really happy with how she did today. The way she showed me today, the longer, I think, the better.”
Trainer Brad Cox on runner-up Sassy Little Lila: “We were super pleased with the effort. (Jockey) Luis (Saez) did a great job. She had a great trip. Turning for home, I thought she had it. The other filly ran a great race down on the inside, so congratulations to them.
“She’s a nice filly. It was her second race off of a layoff, I’m super excited about this filly and what we have for the rest of the year. She’s a game filly and she showed it today.”
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin on third-placer Dickinson: “She ran very well but the race didn’t develop like we thought on paper. But she ran well and got beat by a nice filly. They flew home very fast. We ran well but just didn’t win. We’ll move on. She’s a Grade 1 filly for sure.”