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Proviso Hits Hard in Just A Game

Proviso, already a Grade 1 stakes winner against males, will face five talented fillies and mares in the 17th running of the Grade 1, $400,000 Just a Game presented by VisitNassauCounty.com, which is part of the undercard for Saturday’s Belmont Stakes.


Proviso began her career in Europe, winning the Group 3 Prix du Pin and finishing third to the two-time Breeders’ Cup Mile heroine Goldikova in the Group 1 Prix Rothschild in France. Sent to the United States to join the barn of the late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, the Juddmonte homebred was first under the wire in Keeneland’s Grade 1 Spinster but disqualified and placed second for interference. She was fourth in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic in her final start for Frankel, who passed away in November.


Following Frankel’s death, Juddmonte placed Proviso and the other members of their North American string in the hands of Bill Mott, another Hall of Fame trainer. Proviso was second when sprinting in the Grade 1 Santa Monica on Santa Anita’s synthetic main track in her first start for Mott, then got up by a nose to defeat males in that venue’s Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile Handicap in her first start on the turf since arriving in the United States.


The Just a Game, a one-mile event on the Widener turf course, has been the Mott barn’s objective for the 5-year-old daughter of Dansili since she won the Kilroe, Mott’s assistant Leana Willaford said.


Both Mott and Willaford have noted how Proviso, who drew post position 6, is much more patient now compared to when she first arrived in their barn.


“She used to have a tendency to run a little keen, but she’s been better since we sprinted her [in the Santa Monica],” said Willaford.


Mike Smith, who rode Proviso to victory in the Kilroe, retains the mount aboard the 8-5 morning-line favorite.


Phola enters the Just a Game on a three-race winning streak, having annexed an allowance at Gulfstream Park, the Grade 3 Hillsborough at Tampa Bay Downs, and the Grade 2 Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill Downs. Saturday’s race will be her first opportunity to earn some valuable Grade 1 black type.


“That’s always been something we’ve wanted to go after,” said Jonathan Thomas, assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher.


Owned in part by Pletcher’s father, J.J. Pletcher, Phola drew post position 3 as the 3-1 second choice.

Saturday’s race will be the third start in the United States for Augustin Stable’s Fantasia, a Group 3 winner who was second in the Group 1 Fillies Mile and third in the Group 1 Poule d’Essai des Pouliches (French 1000 Guineas). The 4-year-old daughter of Sadler’s Wells has broken slowly in both stateside efforts, a second in a Keeneland allowance and a fourth in the Distaff Turf Mile over yielding ground behind Phola.


“She breaks slowly, but I don’t mind that because I don’t want her on the pace anyway,” said Sheppard. “In Europe, they don’t break fast because it doesn’t matter as much. She has been trained to race behind horses. The ground was soft [in her last start], and we hope she’ll perform better over firm ground.”


Rajiv Maragh hops aboard 5-1 shot Fantasia, who will break from post position 5.


Farnsworth Stables’ Speak Easy Gal and Cherokee Queen, who are 7-2 on the morning line as a coupled entry, come north from trainer Marty Wolfson’s base at Calder in Florida.


Previously trained by Gary Contessa, Speak Easy Gal is undefeated in four starts since joining Wolfson. The streak started with a pair of allowance victories at Gulfstream Park, which included a win over Grade 3 Ballston Spa heroine Salve Germania. Stretched out to 1 ½ miles for the Grade 3 Orchid at that venue on March 28, she held on by a head over Lady Shakespeare, who returned to win the Grade 3 Bewitch at Keeneland. In her most recent effort, Speak Easy Gal was all out to prevail narrowly over Florida-breds in a 1 1/16th-mile stakes at Gulfstream on April 24.


“When I ran her in the [Orchid], I felt confident because she has speed and can control it,” said Wolfson. “She’s very fast, and there’s not a lot of speed in [the Just a Game]; that’s why I’m bringing her up.”


Wolfson is confident Speak Easy Gal, who will break from post position 4 under Javier Castellano, will dictate the pace on Saturday.


Cherokee Queen, who enters the Just a Game off a victory in a minor stakes at Calder, will be ridden by Garrett Gomez and break from the rail.


My Princess Jess, winner of the Grade 3 Beaugay in 2009, completes the field. Cornelio Velasquez has the mount aboard My Princess Jess, who drew post position 2 and was tabbed at 4-1 on the morning line.

The field for the Grade 1, $400,000 Just a Game:








Cherokee Queen (KY)

G K Gomez


M D Wolfson



My Princess Jess (FL)

C H Velasquez


B Tagg



Phola (KY)

R A Dominguez


T A Pletcher



Speak Easy Gal (FL)

J Castellano


M D Wolfson



Fantasia (GB)

R Maragh


J E Sheppard



Proviso (GB)

M E Smith


W I Mott









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