Fourth in the past two runnings of the Just a Game (G1), Regal Glory arrived in Saturday’s $480,000 renewal in the form of her life, and it showed. The peaking six-year-old powered home by 3 1/2 lengths in 1:32.00, within hailing distance of Oscar Performance’s 1:31.23 record for the mile on Belmont Park’s Widener turf.
The victory was particularly poignant for owner Peter Brant, who campaigned race honoree Just a Game. That’s why trainer Chad Brown has been trying to win this prize for him. He entered three Brant color bearers here, but In Italian and Speak of the Devil had to settle for a distant third and fourth, respectively, behind the resurgent Regal Glory.
“The first day I met him,” Brown said, “and I saw the trophy at his house and it was from Just a Game — it was the first thing I noticed. We had a conversation about it, and I said this is the one race I’m going to win for you one day. We got to talking about it this week. It’s meant a lot to him, this race.”
Just a Game, the champion grass mare of 1980, compiled an eight-race winning streak capped by the Flower Bowl H., then a Grade 2.
“Many years ago,” Brant recalled, “I campaigned Just a Game, and she was a great mare who put a large string of victories together and was a great champion. To have this race named after her is a great pleasure and now to win the race is very, very special.”
Regal Glory is building an Eclipse-worthy resume herself, racking up her fourth straight win in the Just a Game. Brant opted to keep her in training, rather than send her to leading sire Into Mischief as first planned, and she continues to reward his decision.
Bettors were slightly inclined toward Speak of the Devil, sending her off as the even-money favorite after her stunning U.S. debut in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G2). The 7-5 Regal Glory’s skein included the one-mile Matriarch (G1) last December, but her two latest scores came going 1 1/16 miles in the Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G3) and Jenny Wiley (G1).
“I was never concerned,” Brown said of turning back to a one-turn mile. “I knew she likes Belmont and she’s a versatile horse, especially when there’s some pace in front of her.”
The pace was never in doubt, thanks to California speedball Leggs Galore. What was unpredictable was Speak of the Devil’s whiffing the start and ending up as far as 13 lengths off the pace early.
As Leggs Galore blasted to the lead in :22.25 and :45.53, In Italian gave chase, and they opened up on the rest. In Italian put her head in front at the six-furlong mark in 1:08.95 and forged clear in the stretch, only to find the demanding tempo taking its toll.
Regal Glory, who had been on hold in third for a patient Jose Ortiz, played her hand, and the race was over. Wakanaka rallied for second, but was no match for the imperious winner. In Italian checked in another 1 1/4 lengths back in third, followed by a six-length gap to Speak of the Devil, and Leggs Galore trailed.
Regal Glory’s scorecard stands at 19-12-4-0, $2,111,009. Bred and initially raced by the late Paul Pompa, the daughter of Animal Kingdom captured the 2019 Lake Placid (G2) (in a dead-heat), Lake George (G3), and Penn Oaks as well as the 2020 Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf (G3). After Pompa’s untimely passing, she was offered as part of his dispersal at the 2021 Keeneland January Sale, and Brant purchased her for $925,000.
Regal Glory stayed in Brown’s care, adding last season’s Plenty of Grace S. and De La Rose S. But she wasn’t quite reaching the Grade 1 laurel when a troubled fourth in the Just a Game and runner-up in the First Lady (G1). She at last broke through in the Matriarch, apparently ready to become a broodmare with the lacuna on her record filled.
Out of the Grade 2-winning More Than Ready mare Mary’s Follies, Regal Glory has terrific potential as a producer herself. She is a half-sister to two-time February (G1) hero Cafe Pharoah, whose unplaced effort in the recent Yasuda Kinen (G1) reiterated that he doesn’t have her turf prowess.
“She was headed to the breeding shed at the end of last year,” Brown recalled. “I told Mr. Brant, ‘There’s this Pegasus race, let’s just send her down to Florida, run her, then breed her.’ At first, it was my idea to run her there and then breed her. But then when she won, it was his idea to keep going.”
Brown believes that Regal Glory has blossomed with maturity.
“My team working with her, her maturity; Mr. Brant making the call to race her this year was a brilliant move. It was really one of those situations where she’s in her prime right now and some horses catch their peak window at different ages. For this horse, it’s been at age six.”
Regal Glory is in line for another major prize in the Aug. 13 Fourstardave (G1) versus males at Saratoga, a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1).
“Absolutely,” Brown said of the Fourstardave. “That’s likely where she’ll go.”