Amerman Racing, LLC's Coffee Clique came out on top in tight photo-finish over Strathnaver to win the Grade 1, $750,000 Just A Game Stakes at Belmont Park.
Coffee Clique settled in a stalking position behind the early frontrunners. Somali Lemonade set a pace of :23.44, :46.49 and 1:10.29, followed closely by Unlimited Budget and wagering favorite Discreet Marq. Under Javier Castellano, Coffee Clique tracked well through the turn and gave chase midway through the stretch. The 4-year-old filly edged ahead of Discreet Marq and Somali Lemonade. Strathnaver challenged with a huge surge in the final strides, but did not get there in time.
"I had a beautiful trip; it set up perfectly. I had a perfect spot in the race, exactly what I was looking for," the winning jockey said after the race. "Three horses went out for the lead and I was covered up all the way in the race. When my filly took off, she came with a big run."
"It was hard to tell [if I won the photo] in the heat of battle," Castellano added. "It was a very emotional race."
Somali Lemonade held well for third and Discreet Marq was fourth.
Bred in Kentucky by her owners, Coffee Clique is by Medaglia d'Oro out of the Royal Academy dam Miss Chapin.
The winner came into the Just A Game off a half-length victory in the Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill Downs on the Kentucky Derby undercard.
Coffee Clique is trained by Brian Lynch. She improves her lifetime record to six wins, a second and a third from 11 starts with earnings of more than $860,000.
"A Grade 1 absolutely is the pinnacle for her. She's a homebred, which makes that family so valuable, and she's just such a courageous filly. Just thrilled to see her dog it out like she did," Lynch said after the race.
"It's a world title match to be here today, to compete against this competition. But as I've always said, winning form is good form,"he added. "She had won two in a row, she fit here today, and she ran like she belonged. God bless her."
Sent to post at 5-1, Coffee Clique paid $11.60 to win, $6.50 to place and $4.30 for the show.
"I'd feel a little bit better if that wasn't such a tough beat. I told Mike not to rush her, and I wouldn't second guess him if he waited too long to move," Strathnaver's trainer Graham Motion said after the race. "She ran a great race, and he gave her a great ride."
Mike Smith echoed Motion's disappointment with Strathnaver's official finish. "She ran brilliantly. I want to see the photo. I'm really disappointed, I thought I got there, but evidently I didn't," he said. "She ran a tremendous race, I rode her just like Graham told me to, sit and give her one short run. I'm just dumbfounded."