Just A Game Stakes, New York & Intercontinental Odds

The bulk of Friday’s Graded-stakes action at Belmont Park revolves around distaffers on turf, and there is plenty of star quality on show. The wonderful War Like Goddess takes on a Chad Brown quartet in the G1 New York, while Brown has the stand-out in the G1 Just A Game Stakes with three-time G1 winner In Italian, whose main rival is the consistent Spendarella. At a lower level, the G3 Intercontinental showcases speed, with track specialist Bay Storm going up against recent stakes-winner Bubble Rock.

Just A Game

G1, $500,000, 1m turf, 4yo+ females, 2.28pm ET

Just a short field for the Just A Game Stakes, with the opposition deterred by the presence of a bona fide top-notcher from a barn – guess who? Yes, Chad Brown – that has provided five of the last six winners of the race.

The name in the frame is In Italian (1-2), who is an overwhelming favourite on the basis of both recent form and a six-for-ten count that includes three G1 victories.

The most recent of those top-level wins came in the Jenny Wiley at Keeneland over a mile-sixteenth on her first run of 2023, when she broke on top and never gave her rivals a look-in, drawing off to win by three lengths without breaking sweat. Those forcing tactics also paid dividends in the G1 First Lady at Keeneland over a mile and the mile-eighth G1 Diana at Saratoga, and they nearly did again in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf over a mile and three-sixteenths, when the extra yardage probably didn’t help and she was collared close home.

In Italian was only third in this race 12 months ago but is better and stronger now, and this shapes as another all-the-way display.

The G2 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile under the twin spires impacts strongly upon this race, with the two-three-four renewing rivalry. Spendarella (2-1) came out best of the trio, although she was a little disappointing when coughing up her unbeaten record in the US, being unable to find an extra gear – albeit on her first start for more than eight months.

She was a length clear of Speak Of The Devil (10-1) – In Italian’s barnmate – who was in turn a nose ahead of Wakanaka (8-1), and with the benefit of that run under her belt Spendarella can confirm the placings.

Wakanaka was runner-up in this race last year, ahead of In Italian and Speak Of The Devil, but is inconsistent and hasn’t matched that level of performance since.

New Year’s Eve (12-1) has run third behind Didia (see previous race) on her last two starts, in a Fair Grounds stakes and a Churchill Downs G3, and although that’s good form she doesn’t have the class to make it pay at the highest level.

Just A Game Stakes Odds & Betting Prediction

It’s hard to get away from the claims of IN ITALIAN, who has already won three G1s and looks set for another straightforward front-running score.

HorseJockeyOdds by Jazzsports
In Italian (GB)Irad Ortiz, Jr.-200
New Year’s EveLuis Saez+1200
SpendarellaTyler Gaffalione+200
Wakanaka (IRE)Joel Rosario+800
Speak of the Devil (FR)Flavien Prat+1000

New York Stakes

G1, $600,000, 1m 2f turf, 4yo+ females, 4.41pm ET

As is to be expected, the Chad Brown army is out in force for the New York, the high point of three distaff races on the lawn at Belmont Park on Friday, but for once the trainer’s show of strength is overshadowed by a real war horse.

The admirable War Like Goddess (6-5) makes her first-ever start at the ‘Big Sandy’, and US racing’s best route mare comes along in her usual fine form following her third successive victory in the G3 Bewitch at Keeneland. She had no difficulty in holding off inferior rivals there, and her G1 Breeders’ Cup Turf performance last fall, when third against males, is the best form on offer by a street.

The issue today is the distance, as both those races were at a mile and a half, over which she has been so relentlessly effective. This cutback is not a positive but not necessarily a negative, as she’ll get a faster pace to run into and her class edge is a fearsome weapon.

Brown has won this race a joint-record four times and supplies half the field, and the outsider of his quartet Virginia Joy (15-1) took the scalp of War Like Goddess in the G2 Flower Bowl at Saratoga over a mile and three-eighths, when she set walking-pace fractions and held off the rallying War Like Goddess by a neck.

She has been a little underpowered in two starts this year, but barnmate Marketsegmentation (6-1) has been in sparkling form and made her Graded-stakes breakthrough with a dominant display in the G3 Beaugay here over a mile-sixteenth, stalking and pouncing and clearing away. This is tougher but the extra yardage should be okay, and she could be a pace angle.

Brown’s remaining pair Shantisara (8-1) and McKulick (8-1) were disappointing in the mile-eighth G3 Modesty at Churchill Downs when they couldn’t cope at all with the former Argentine ace Didia (5-1), who stretched her winning streak to seven with an authoritative performance, coming three and a quarter lengths clear of Shantisara in fourth, with a head back to McKulick in fifth.

Didia, a dual G1 winner down south, goes from strength to strength – that was her first Graded score in the US – and there is likely more to come as she matures (southern hemisphere horses are six months behind US runners of the same age).

Shantisara had been doing well in Florida this winter, winning the G2 Hillsborough over a mile-eighth when close to the pace throughout, while McKulick has shown her best form over course and distance, taking the G1 Belmont Oaks last summer when running down With The Moonlight (9-2) to win going away by a length and three-quarters. She’s consistent and should be forgiven that Modesty clunker, her first time finishing off the board on her first start for almost seven months.

British raider With The Moonlight hated the soft turf when well beaten at Newmarket last time, but will step back up for these much faster conditions and the best of her US form – in the aforementioned Belmont Oaks, and when second-best behind the top-class In Italian in the G1 Jenny Wiley at Keeneland two starts ago – gives her a big chance. Her barn is in pretty moderate form, though.

This star-studded cast-list makes it tough for Flirting Bridge (20-1), winner of a Keeneland allowance over a mile-sixteenth on her first start of 2023, with her good Woodbine form of last fall not likely to carry much water in this company.

New York Stakes Odds & Betting Pick

Distance issues surrounding the favorite could open the door for the improving DIDIA, who has won her last seven races and is ready for the top level.

HorseJockeyOdds by Jazzsports
Flirting Bridge (IRE)Tyler Gaffalione+2000
Shantisara (IRE)Flavien Prat+800
Didia (ARG)Vincent Cheminaud+500
MarketsegmentationJose L. Ortiz+600
Virginia Joy (GER)Manuel Franco+1500
McKulick (GB)Irad Ortiz, Jr.+800
War Like GoddessJoel Rosario+120
With The Moonlight (IRE)William Buick+450


G3, $200,000, 6f turf, 4yo+ females, 6.19pm ET

The Intercontinental doesn’t have the punch of the other races on Friday, there are no G1 stars to get the pulse racing, but it is tight and competitive and provides bettors with a tricky final-race puzzle to solve.

The first knot to untie is the outcome of the stakes over course and distance a month ago that involved half of today’s runners, including the morning-line favourite, who filled out the superfecta in a race run at a sizzling clip.

They went through the first quarter in 21 and three-fifths, so not surprisingly the front end fell apart and the winner Bubble Rock (5-2) came through from the back of the pack, holding on tenaciously in the last few jumps to deny the rally of Poppy Flower (9-2) by a half-length. The winner’s barnmate Goin’ Good (8-1) faded in the final sixteenth to be third, beaten another length and a quarter, and Messidor (12-1), who came from even further back than the winner on her first start of the year, was closest at the wire in fourth, a length further adrift.

The revised weights favour Poppy Flower, who is 4lb better off with Bubble Rock, more than enough to flip the form if they run identically – which horses rarely do. Bubble Rock is two-for-two at this track, both in stakes, but usually goes longer and it was her stamina that won the day last time.

Goin’ Good and Poppy Flower had met on their previous start in a six-furlong Aqueduct allowance, won by the former after she stalked the pace and pounced to get the job done a length and three-quarters ahead of Poppy Flower in third. There won’t be much between them again.

This is practically class relief for Bay Storm (3-1), who had no real chance against top-ranker Caravel in a stakes at Churchill Downs over five and a half furlongs, but was second-best a head in front of longshot Sarah Harper (6-1). Bay Storm has been knocking on the door at stakes level and has hit the board on all five starts at this track, but Sarah Harper has lost eight straight and is not so easy to like.

California girl Amy C (5-1) made her Graded-stakes breakthrough in the G3 Las Cienegas over six and a half furlongs at Santa Anita, but hasn’t been around for five months and the layoff is a concern against better opposition, while the British import Clitheroe (15-1) doesn’t appeal on the basis of her narrow allowance win here over seven furlongs on her first start Stateside.

Intercontinental Stakes Odds & Betting Pick

BAY STORM did as well as could have been expected against a class act last time, and can gain compensation at a track where her record reads 31121.

HorseJockeyOdds by Jazzsports
Poppy FlowerJose L. Ortiz+450
Sarah HarperTyler Gaffalione+600
Clitheroe (GB)Feargal Lynch+1500
Messidor (IRE)Javier Castellano+1200
Bay StormJohn R. Velazquez+300
Amy C (GB)Flavien Prat+500
Bubble RockJoel Rosario+250
Goin’ GoodManuel Franco+800

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