Race of the Week: Just a Game Stakes
June 8, 2018
by Joe Wulffe
Saturday June 9th: Race 8 at Belmont Park. The $700,000 Grade 1 Longines Just a Game Stakes run at one mile on the turf for fillies and mares four years old and upward. Post Time: 4:02 EDT
(3) Off Limits: This six year old daughter of Mastercraftsman will be sent out by trainer Chad Brown to compete in Saturday’s very competitive edition of the Just a Game Stakes. Off Limits has done quite well in her career thus far at Belmont as she has finished in the money in four of five lifetime starts here; furthermore through seven career races at today’s distance of one mile, she has missed hitting the board just twice while winning four of those seven starts. In her last outing, in the eight and a half furlong Coolmore Jenny Wiley (G1T) at Keeneland on April 14th, Off Limits initially broke well from the gates with jockey Joel Rosario aboard and was guided to sit a mid-pack stalking trip early on. Although she did float out a bit coming into the final turn, after chasing fast initial fractions, she was able to keep on driving down the stretch and finished a game third, two and a half lengths behind her stablemates Sistercharlie and Fourstar Crook (both of whom Brown has entered in the ten furlong Grade 2 New York Stakes on Friday). Furthermore, it does appear that Off Limits should appreciate the slight cut back in distance to a mile on Saturday.
Off Limits’ preferred running style is that of closer that possesses an incredibly powerful kick and does her best running very late in her races. It appears that Off Limits should get an ideal pace setup on Saturday. She has fortunately drawn in next to the likely front running speed which will allow her to have room to drop back towards the rear of the field early on without getting bounced around. Furthermore, there appears to be a number of pace presser types that have also entered into this field that should help keep the pace honest early and permit Off Limits to have a good chance of being able to pass tiring horses as the field turns for home. All of these factors, combined with Off Limits’ prowess at not only the distance but also Belmont should bode well for her chances at success on Saturday.
Off Limits’ trainer, Chad Brown, has quite simply been masterful with getting turf runners to produce this year. Brown comes into Saturday’s race having won 28% of the races he’s entered into thus far at the Belmont meet and has also finished in the money in 54% of 71 starts so far. Additionally, Brown does quite well with runners that are coming in off of layoffs of 46-90 days as he is currently winning at a 27% rate with those types of horses (Off Limits is returning to racing after a 56 day layoff). Furthermore, Off Limits appears to be getting an upgrade in the jockey department as veteran jockey Javier Castellano will now be onboard. Castellano has done well when racing on turf this year having won 21% of his 239 starts. But where he really shines is when he has hooked up with Brown over the past 60 days. During that time period, he has won with 33% of his mounts for Brown.
Both of Off Limits’ recent workouts over the Belmont turf course and main track indicate that she is in good form. Moreover, in her two starts this year as the distance has decreased (from nine to eight and a half furlongs), her Bris Speed Ratings have increased (from a 91 BSR in the Grade 2 Hillsborough on March 10th while running behind slower fractions to a 96 BSR in the Jenny Wiley while chasing a faster pace). Off Limits does not appear to be in peak form just yet, but Saturday’s race could serve as another stepping stone for her getting back to the top of her game. If the pace for the Just a Game turns out to be fairly quick and Castellano has her positioned well to make a big run late, then Off Limits is a must include for consideration to not only hit the board but also likely win this race.
(1) On Leave: This five year old daughter of War Front, trained by Shug McGaughey, has been fairly impressive throughout her career. A winner of nearly $900k, she has finished out of the money just twice in 16 lifetime starts. Additionally, On Leave has enjoyed racing at Belmont as she has managed to hit the board in all five starts there. On Leave has yet to finish out of the money while racing at today’s one mile distance on turf, as her record stands at a perfect eight for eight with four wins. In her last start, in the Distaff Turf Mile Stakes (G2) run over a good turf course at Churchill Downs on May 5th, On Leave broke alertly and took up a stalking trip sitting several lengths behind the early pacesetter. As the field entered the final turn, jockey Jose Ortiz moved her up and she took command of the lead midway through the turn and was able to briefly shake clear of her rivals coming into the stretch. While On Leave continued to run well, she was unable to fend off the late challenge of Proctor’s Ledge (one of today’s rivals) and was just beaten by half a length at the wire. For her efforts, she earned a 98 Bris Speed Rating which ranks fairly competitively amongst today’s field.
Throughout most of her career, On Leave’s preferred running style has either been that of a pace presser sitting just off the lead or that of a stalker sitting further back in the field early on before trying to take over the lead late. The TimeForm Pace Projector has indicated that the pace of Saturday’s race should be fairly quick and suggests that On Leave will be sitting close to the front early on, just off the lead being setting by the Christophe Clement horse Lull. On Leave certainly does fit well into this race. She has drawn the rail position which should allow her jockey to give her a good ground saving trip. Additionally, she has displayed great tactical ability to be able to track the pace well; thus when all these factors are combined together, that could amount to a successful day for On Leave. Finally, over her past three starts, all at one mile, On Leave’s Bris Speed Ratings have steadily increased with each consecutive performance (89-94-98). While there is the possibility that she could regress slightly on Saturday, it is more likely that she has not quite hit her ceiling just yet and may still be able to improve albeit slightly.
Shug McGaughey has done fairly well when entering runners making their third start off of a layoff as he is currently winning at an 18% rate under those conditions. He also has done alright with those horses shipping in to race as he has won 20% of 328 starts this year. While On Leave does lose her primary jockey to her rival Lull, she gains local jockey Manny Franco who has been on fire as of late. Franco has won 19% of the races he rides in at the current Belmont meet and has finished on the board with 55 of his 117 mounts (47%) thus far. Additionally, Franco has done well with E/P type horses and is currently winning at an 18% clip with those types of mounts. While On Leave has yet to win a Grade 1 race, she has the potential to do so on Saturday. If Franco can work a good trip and rate just behind the early leader, he should have On Leave in an excellent position to be able to take over the lead late should her rival falter. Though a win against this quality of a field may be asking a little much of her, it is not out of the realm of possibility; however, an in the money finish is a much more likely scenario for On Leave on Saturday.
(7) A Raving Beauty: Trainer Chad Brown will also enter this five year old daughter of Mastercraftsman, a stablemate to Off Limits, on Saturday. Prior to this year, A Raving Beauty had been primarily competing in the European turf circuits, mainly in Germany. She has raced six times before at today’s one mile distance, yet she has finished in the money in just three of her six attempts and only won once. On May 12th she made her U.S. debut racing in the Grade 3 Beaugay Stakes over eight and a half furlongs on the inner turf course at Belmont. Under the guidance of veteran jockey Irad Ortiz Jr, A Raving Beauty bobbled slightly after breaking from the starting gate but was able to recover well and tucked over to the inside while sitting a good stalking trip just off the leader. Ortiz patiently bided his time for much of the early part of the race before moving A Raving Beauty outside as the field rounded the final turn. She then shot past her rivals as the field entered the stretch and kicked clear of them, eventually winning by three lengths. While her first win in the U.S. was fairly impressive, it should be noted that not only was the pace for the Beaugay absolutely glacial early on with fractions of :253 and :241 but also the level of competition in that race was much weaker than what A Raving Beauty can expect to face today.
Unfortunately, it is somewhat hard to provide an accurate assessment of A Raving Beauty’s preferred running style as she has had just one race here in the U.S. and her last race overseas was back in October. Additionally, the early pace of her last race was quite slow before quickening late and it is very unlikely that she runs into a similar pace scenario on Saturday. Rather, the TimeForm Pace Projector has suggested that the initial pace of this race could be fairly quick and as a result has indicated that A Raving Beauty might be racing further back in the field, at least early on. However, if there is anything worthwhile to take away from her last performance, it is that A Raving Beauty does possess a fairly powerful closing kick and she will likely have to put this to good use in order to have a chance on Saturday.
As mentioned previously, Chad Brown trains this other daughter of Mastercraftsman. When giving Lasix for the second time, Brown runners have won 19% of their races this year. Additionally, Brown has been winning 23% of his starts with runners coming into their second start off of a layoff. Moreover, A Raving Beauty will retain jockey Irad Ortiz Jr in the irons on Saturday. Ortiz has been doing phenomenal when racing on turf this year, winning 24% of his 371 starts so far. Also when Ortiz has hooked up with Brown over the past 60 days he has won with an impressive 37% of his 41 mounts.
A Raving Beauty’s two most recent workouts over the Belmont turf course were fairly workmanlike and should serve to indicate that she is in good form despite the somewhat shorter layoff (when compared to the rest of the field). While her current class does compare favorably against the rest of the field, A Raving Beauty will still need to make a major step up to be able to compete well against this fairly tough field. However, her last outing certainly suggests that she can still improve and should she adapt well to a likely quicker pace, there is no reason to think that she can’t hit the board in Saturday’s Just a Game.