by NYRA Press Office
There are ups and downs in racing and then there is the week trainer Charlie Appleby has experienced. A few days after Rebel’s Romance developed an infection and was unable to contest the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets, the team landed this morning’s Group 1 Epsom Derby in England with homebred Adayar hours before Althiqa powered her way to victory in Belmont Park’s 28th Grade 1, $500,000 Longines Just a Game, leading home a one-two finish for Appleby and Godolphin.
A daughter of Dark Angel, the English-bred 4-year-old gray sat comfortably in eighth, toward the middle of the 10-horse field under Hall of Famer Mike Smith as stablemate Summer Romance and Luis Saez carved out legitimate fractions of 23.43 for a quarter-mile, 46.90 for a half and 1:10.46 for six furlongs over the good turf.
Known for her consistency - never failing to hit the board in nine previous tries - the tiny filly delivered a fierce rally up the rail, passing seven horses in the final quarter-mile, including her stablemate through a tight rail spot en route to a three-quarter-length triumph in a final time of 1:33.90.
Summer Romance was another 1¾ lengths to the good of Daddy Is a Legend in third under Manny Franco. Regal Glory, favored Pocket Square, Zofelle, Always Shopping, Abscond, Tamahere and New York Girl completed the order of finish. Sweet Bye and Bye and Blowout were scratched.
The victory was Althiqa’s third in stakes company, following a victory in last year’s Listed Prix Amandine at Deauville in France and this winter’s Group 2 Cape Verdi at Meydan in Dubai. The $275,000 winner’s share increased her career bankroll to $466,213. Off at odds of 7/1, she returned $16.80 on a $2 win bet. The Appleby exacta paid $41.25 on a $1 bet.
“We’re obviously delighted with it and we knew we had two competitive fillies. It’s one of those days when we prepped well, I was confident they would run a big race and they justified it,” Appleby said. “They are two fillies who ran well over the winter in Dubai in Group 2s—one won the Balanchine and the other won the Cape Verdi—and they came out there to America and put it to the sword again. It’s a great effort by the team there and we might think about leaving them there for Saratoga. Althiqa hit the line strong enough and she wasn’t stopping. It was an opportunity to get a Group 1 and luckily we did.
“Mike gave us our first Grade 1 in the Breeders' Cup with Outstrip, so it's great to team up again,” he added. “With Rebel's Romance earlier this week and this, it's just the ups and downs of it all. We've seen it here in the UK and you just have to roll with the punches.”
Smith was elated, having only two rides on the day—both for Appleby—and originally lined up to ride Rebel’s Romance.
“We laid midpack,” Smith said. “She’s got a big heart and she’s very, very honest, so she’s going to run good. You’re just going to have to make a trip when it’s time to move on. I was actually going to tip out, but she kind of leaned in like she wanted to drop to the fence, so I just let her. It was a small hole, but [Appleby] told me she had a big heart and she got on through there. She might suit American racing really well. We might want to keep her here.”
Saez said he was pleased with his mount, whom he was also piloting for the first time.
“She ran pretty hard,” he said. “I thought we were going to win. She never gave up. She came into the stretch running and then Mike Smith came really fast. We just got caught. She never gave up and she tried to the wire.”
Daddy Is a Legend was third for the second time in the Just a Game, following the same finish in 2019.
Manny Franco said he was pleased with her performance.
“I had a great trip,” Franco said. “We never got stopped. I got the trip I wanted. I wanted to wait a little longer to make my move and that’s what I did. The two fillies who beat me are nice and she made a good run.”
The win improved Appleby’s record to six wins and four seconds from 17 North American starts and improved his earnings among such to $3,279,620.
Appleby said he would consider both Althiqa and Summer Romance for the Grade 1, $500,000 Diana on July 17 at Saratoga Race Course.
Live racing continues Sunday at Belmont Park with a nine-race card featuring the $150,000 Jersey Girl. First post is 1 p.m. Eastern.
Andrew Fegyveresi; Pat McKenna
NYRA Press Office