Stephanie’s Kitten dove through an opening on the rail at the top of the stretch and outkicked Better Lucky to the wire to win Saturday’s 20th running of the Grade 1, $500,000 Longines Just a Game for turf fillies and mares at Belmont Park on the undercard of the Belmont Stakes.
Ridden by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, Stephanie’s Kitten enjoyed a ground-saving trip through the early going as Mizdirection was hounded by Laugh Out Loud through fractions of 24.50, 48.13 and 1:12.55 over the yielding turf course. As the first two straightened for home, Velazquez pounced on the opening with Stephanie’s Kitten, while Better Lucky sailed four wide, setting up a stretch-long duel that ended in a half-length decision.
The winning time for a mile was 1:36.27.
“We were in the No. 2 hole and when the hole opened up and Johnny stuck her head in there, I was happy with it, I really was,” said trainer Wayne Catalano.
The victory was the second in as many starts this year for Stephanie’s Kitten, who on May 4 won the Grade 2 Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill Downs. A 4-year-old daughter of Kitten’s Joy bred and owned by Sarah and Kenneth Ramsey, Stephanie’s Kitten is now 7-0-3 from 12 career starts, and counts among her graded stakes wins the Grade 2 Woodford Reserve Lake Placid at Saratoga Race Course, the Grade 2 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and the Grade 1 Alcibiades.
“I love this filly,” said Velazquez, who has been aboard for five of her victories. “It’s incredible that she keeps coming back year after year and does this.”
Sent off at 3-1, Stephanie’s Kitten returned $8.00 for a $2 win bet, and with the winner’s purse of $300,000 now has earned $1,580,404.
Hungry Island closed for third, three lengths back, and was followed under the wire by favored Centre Court, Mizdirection, and Laugh Out Loud.
“The ground is a little too soft [for her],” said Julien Leparoux, aboard the beaten favorite. “She didn’t have the same kick at the end. She was in a good spot, just no kick.”