July 13, 2024

Brown amasses quintet for Just a Game; Roses for Debra highlights Intercontinental

Gina Romantica in The First Lady at Keeneland
Gina Romantica wins the 2023 First Lady at Keeneland (Photo by Coady Photography / Credit to Megan Coady)

Chad Brown ranks as the all-time leading trainer in the $500,000 Just a Game (G1) with six wins, all accomplished in the past seven years at Belmont Park. Only a Charlie Appleby invasion in 2021 interrupted Brown’s relentless march. There’s no international shipper in Friday’s renewal of the one-mile turf affair as it shifts to Saratoga, and Brown looks to enhance his stats with five of the seven entrants.

As you’d expect from the Brown barn, loads of quality go along with the sheer quantity. The quintet can be divided broadly into two categories – the back class of Gina Romantica and Whitebeam, and the current form of Chili Flag, Beaute Cachee, and Coppice. But Coppice arguably straddles the two categories, as a relatively recent European import with potential. She’s a Juddmonte homebred like Whitebeam.

Gina Romantica sports the colors of Peter Brant, who owned the race’s champion namesake as well as the past two winners, Regal Glory (2022) and In Italian (2023). The Into Mischief filly is the most accomplished of the group. The heroine of the 2022 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) heroine scored her other top-level win back at Keeneland in last fall’s First Lady (G1). A close fourth next time versus males in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), Gina Romantica returned as a non-threatening seventh in Keeneland’s Jenny Wiley (G1) to front-running 25-1 shot Beaute Cachee.

“I was a little disappointed at Keeneland for her (Gina Romantica),” Brown told NYRA publicity, “but in hindsight, she might have needed the race. She was kind of hemmed up a little bit inside and wasn’t happy. I’ve been keeping my eye on her to get a feel for if she’s going to have a chance to get back to her top form from last year. Her last couple of works, she seems to be headed that way.”

Whitebeam returns to the scene of her signature win, over In Italian, in last summer’s Diana (G1). Winless since, the Caravaggio mare was fourth in the First Lady and Matriarch (G1), and an overeager runner-up in her Beaugay (G3) comeback.

Chili Flag and Coppice served up the exacta in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G2) on Kentucky Derby Day. But the older, savvier Chili Flag had the benefit of recency, having landed the March 2 Honey Fox (G3).

Coppice, making her U.S. premiere off a layoff, broke slowly, and still lost by only a neck. The Kingman filly keeps Frankie Dettori, who jumps off Beaute Cachee.

“She did everything but win (at Churchill Downs),” Brown said of Coppice. “We’ve been very high on the horse and she had a wonderful winter for us down at Payson. She’s come out of there (the Distaff Turf Mile) well. She’s had a couple works, and she’s very sharp.”

The Graham Motion-trained Mission of Joy was also last seen in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile, where she was fourth behind the Brown trifecta. Motion revealed that the daughter of Kitten’s Joy missed some training time ahead of that race, suggesting that she will improve here.

“She’s doing really well,” Motion said of the multiple Grade 3 winner, who was third in last year’s Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup. “I thought they (Mission of Joy and New York [G1] contender Sparkle Blue) worked awesome together, particularly Mission of Joy, and that really encouraged me to go on to this race. This race is one we always had circled. I think this course will suit her.”

Evvie Jets was only eighth in the same Churchill feature, but the Mertkan Kantarmaci pupil sprang a 29-1 upset of the Ballston Spa (G2) here last season.

Kicking off Friday’s series of four stakes is the $200,000 Intercontinental (G2), now trimmed to 5 1/2 furlongs.

Roses for Debra looms large as the recent winner of the Giant’s Causeway (G3). Also 2-for-2 at this course and distance, the Christophe Clement mare swept last year’s Caress (G3) and Smart N Fancy S.

Wesley Ward has two in the field, Giant’s Causeway runner-up Love Reigns and Kaufymaker. Note that Kaufymaker is cross-entered to Saturday’s Mighty Beau S. at Churchill.

Other contenders include Run for the Hills and Medalla Match, the respective third and fourth from the Unbridled Sidney (G3); Future Is Now, victorious in the The Very One S. on Black-Eyed Susan Day; Gal in a Rush, who just missed in the License Fee S.; and Southern California invader Spicybug for Michael McCarthy.