Once again dominant when allowed to set the narrative, Newspaperofrecord led throughout to give trainer Chad Brown his fourth straight win in Saturday’s $250,000 Just a Game (G1). The Klaravich Stables runner was the slight second choice to champion stablemate Uni, both going off at 1.05-1, but the combination of her pace advantage and recency was decisive on Belmont Park’s Widener turf.
Newspaperofrecord had recaptured the long-lost glory of her juvenile campaign in the June 6 Intercontinental (G3) over 7 furlongs here on yielding ground. The Just a Game was an extra panel on a course listed firm, but that had absorbed some rain, and the Irish-bred daughter of Lope de Vega was in her comfort zone at every stage.
Under regular rider Irad Ortiz, who was racking up his fifth win on the card, Newspaperofrecord dashed to a daylight lead through an opening quarter in :23.79, slower than her take-no-prisoners blitz in the Intercontinental. Her only plausible pace rival, Valedictorian, raced 2 1/2 lengths back in second, did not change position through a half in :48.13, and retreated from there.
As Newspaperofrecord was still going easily at the 6-furlong mark in 1:12.22, Uni and yet another Brown entrant, Regal Glory, advanced into contention. But the leader let them close on sufferance, for straightening into the lane, Newspaperofrecord quickened right away from them. Crossing the wire three lengths clear, she finished the mile in 1:35.62.
The 10-1 Beau Recall rallied from last to prevent a Brown trifecta. This was the second straight year that the Brad Cox trainee was runner-up in the Just a Game, after filling the same spot behind front-running Rushing Fall in 2019.
Uni performed well another half-length back in third, considering that she’d missed some time due to a popped splint during the spring. Unraced since her Eclipse-clinching Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), Uni did not get a rematch with Mile runner-up Got Stormy, who was a late scratch from the Just a Game.
Regal Glory, a half-sister to Japan’s Kentucky Derby hope Cafe Pharoah, wound up fourth. Next came Zofelle and Valedictorian.
“We trained her lightly,” Brown said of Newspaperofrecord’s three-week turnaround, “and she has been training very relaxed. Last time, she was going really fast and was a little fresh.
“Irad was confident that he could get her to rate a little bit. I loved our post (3) today, off the fence a little bit. The last-minute showers didn’t hurt us either. We all know that she likes a little juice in the ground. It was a good effort after three weeks. I was very proud of her. My team has done a great job with her. She’s never looked better. She’s training so comfortably in the mornings.”
While Brown on the Fox Sports broadcast reiterated his decision not to test her beyond a mile again, Ortiz thought that Newspaperofrecord could get a little further.
“She’s doing good and has come back really good,” Ortiz said. “Going seven-eighths to a mile is good for her; she can go further, too, and I would not be afraid to go a mile and a sixteenth. I just followed Chad’s instructions.”
Brother Jose Ortiz, who rode Beau Recall, described the course as soft.
“It was a great effort,” he said of the runner-up. “I broke OK. She got into a good position and a good rhythm. It’s really soft out there. I followed Uni the whole way around there and had a great trip. The winner is just a freak on the soft turf. She loves it.”
Uni could have used more pace support, jockey Joel Rosario observed.
“She went nice around there and I started making my move early,” Rosario said. “It looked like the pace wasn’t fast. I knew there was soft ground. She tried really hard, but today was not her day. I think she needed the race.”
Newspaperofrecord improved her record to 8-5-2-0, $988,250. The heroine of the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) and Miss Grillo (G2) had a forgettable sophomore season. Overturned at prohibitive odds in both the Edgewood (G3) and Wonder Again (G3), Newspaperofrecord took her rank tendencies to new extremes in a ninth-place debacle in the Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1). Clearly the attempts to throttle back on her speed and stretch out had backfired, and Brown went back to the drawing board in preparation for 2020. The 4-year-old Newspaperofrecord has now found herself as a front-running miler.
The 200,000-guineas Tattersalls October yearling purchase was bred by Times of Wigan. She is a half-sister to Group 3-placed stakes scorer Classical Times. Their dam, the Holy Roman Emperor mare Sunday Times, was a Group 3 winner and runner-up in the 2011 Cheveley Park (G1). This is also the immediate family of 2018 Irish Derby (G1) victor Latrobe and last year’s Epsom Oaks (G1) second Pink Dogwood.
The other turf stakes on Saturday, the $250,000 New York (G2), was a 1 1/4-mile affair on the inner turf, but produced a similar wire job by the streaking Mean Mary.
Trained by Graham Motion, the Alex G. Campbell Jr. homebred went on a tear at Gulfstream this winter, progressing from a maiden to scores in the La Prevoyante (G3) and Orchid (G3). Mean Mary seamlessly transferred her game to Belmont, where she shaped as the lone speed. She accordingly was bet down from a 7-2 morning line into 6-5 favoritism, a status helped by the scratch of 5-2 stablemate Mrs. Sippy.
After posting leisurely fractions of :25.11, :51.55, and 1:16.28, Mean Mary turned on the speed for Luis Saez. The daughter of Scat Daddy and Grade 1 winner Karlovy Vary threw in a :22.93 quarter to get away from the field in a 1:39.21 mile and saved her fastest split – :22.64 –for last. Not only was she uncatchable, but Mean Mary drew off by 5 1/4 lengths while completing the circuit in 2:01.85.
The 9-1 My Sister Nat, a half-sister to champions Sistercharlie and Sottsass, was a long-way last early but rallied for second by a neck over the 26-1 longshot Feel Glorious. Call Me Love, the 1.25-1 second choice, stalked before weakening to fourth. Fools Gold and Valiance rounded out the order of finish.
“I had a lot of confidence in her today,” Saez said. “She always does everything right. Today, she was just galloping. The track feels good today and I think the rain helped her. She was super relaxed, even more so than her last race. She feels better now than she did last time.”
Motion had a smidgeon of a question mark going into the race.
“You always wonder a little bit about Florida; did she just suit that course? But this is so different than running at Gulfstream,” Motion said. “The way she did it was pretty impressive. I worried a little bit. You always worry a little bit with that much time away and I wanted to keep her fresh, but she also had to be fit.
“The course took a little bit of rain, but it’s so different than what she had been running on. I think she might be one of those horses where you don’t have to make too many excuses.”
Indeed, Mean Mary’s ability to carry her speed over a distance makes her a valuable addition to the distaff turf scene. The lightly raced 4-year-old promises to add to her 7-5-1-0, $396,160 mark.