SARATOGA SPRINGS — First, it was the Just a Game.
Then, it was just the same.
Althiqa and Summer Romance have been playing “Meet Me at the Finish Line” this summer, the former biding her time in the back and the latter leading the field around the track.
The Godolphin stablemates won that game again on Saturday, in identical fashion to the Grade I Just a Game at Belmont Park on June 5, as Althiqa used a sharp closing kick to catch the front-running Summer Romance and win the Grade I Diana at Saratoga Race Course.
Even the winning margin was the same for both races: three-quarters of a length.
The Charlie Appleby-trained duo had been racing in Europe before coming to the U.S. for these two races, and made it a clean sweep by beating a stellar field in the Diana that included two from trainer Chad Brown, who came in with a five-year Diana winning streak.
That streak ended when Pocket Square faded from third to fifth, and Lemista never got in the race and finished last of eight, and it was ended by a pair of gray 4-year-old fillies who were able to clone their performance from six weeks ago.
Ridden by Manny Franco after Mike Smith had the mount in the Just a Game, Althiqa broke from the gate in last place, then was patiently guided toward the front and passed Summer Romance inside the eighth pole. Summer Romance, with Luis Saez in the irons, held well for second, and it was another length and three-quarters back to third-place finisher La Signare.
“The form certainly held up, there was no question about that,” Godolphin racing manager Jimmy Bell said. “It was a great team effort there. The one on the lead, Luis really did a great job on the front end, and the other filly had a great final kick. So, another repeat for 1-2, and a great ride from both riders and a great run from both fillies.”
“We’ve been in America since the first of May; it’s the 17th of July and we had two big targets in Grade I’s, and we just couldn’t do better,” Appleby’s assistant Sophie Chretien said.
There was concern all day that rainstorms would have an adverse effect on the Saratoga turf courses, but except for a short burst early in the afternoon, it was a cloudy, coolish day with no precipitation.
In the one-mile Just a Game, which was run on a Belmont turf rated “good,” Summer Romance led all the way until Althiqa brushed past her as they got inside the sixteenth pole.
Althiqa caught her stablemate a little sooner in the mile-and-an-eighth Diana and again was able to finish the deal with a resolute kick to the wire.
“I just wanted to wait as long as I could, because I knew the distance was further than the last race,” Franco said. “That was the question, but she did it. They didn’t tell me much. They just told me to cover her and follow somebody until I made my move. I think that was the key, that she was so relaxed behind horses and then she gave me a nice move and nice kick.”
“It just looked like Luis was able to get her [Summer Romance] very comfortable, she relaxed, you could just see going by the stands the first time that it seemed like she came back to him nicely, settled into a nice rhythm and he was able to sort of dictate things on the front end,” Bell said. “Both fillies ran to their form, and both jockeys rode fantastic races.
“To ship over here and keep that form up from the Belmont to today is just a great effort from the whole Godolphin team.”
“Summer Romance didn’t take the rematch with Althiqa, but what I realized with Althiqa with all the time she’s been with us, she’s becoming stronger physically and mentally,” Chretien said. “Summer Romance is a lot more of a nervous filly.
“It’s a great feeling. It’s my first time coming to America, and you don’t know the tracks, but these horses are smart. You just have to listen to them.”
It wasn’t all good news for Team Godolphin on Saturday, as their top older dirt horse, Dubai World Cup winner Mystic Guide, will be on the shelf for at least two months after tests showed a small chip in his right knee that will require surgery.
“We’ve got the rest of the season to sort things out and see how this plays out,” Bell said. “First and foremost is to take care of the immediate situation.
“It changes pretty quick in this sport. We all know that. He’s accomplished an enormous amount, he’s a lovely horse … so, yeah, it’s never easy, but you know it’s always something we have to deal with, and fortunately we found this out early and can take care of the horse in the proper way, and we’ll have plenty of time to re-assess.”
WIT WINS SANFORD
Wit, a son of 2016 Hopeful and 2017 Allen Jerkens winner Practical Joke, was no joke in the Sanford on the Diana undercard, winning by eight lengths as the even-money betting favorite.
That came on the heels of a six-length win in his career debut on Belmont Stakes Day and stamps him as one of the top 2-year-old males in the country, with stakes races for juveniles beginning to show up on the calendar more frequently.
One thing Wit will need to improve is finding a sharper move out of the starting gate.
But it didn’t cost him in the Sanford, as jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. urged the Todd Pletcher-trained Wit to get better position early, then picked the right time to go after the leaders around the turn.
“He broke a little better from the gate today, then Irad hustled him away from there, gathered him up and the horse took him there,” Pletcher’s assistant Tristan Berry said. “He probably had to move a little earlier than he wanted just to get to that outside position, and then he flew on by from there. He’s a very nice horse. I loved what he did.”
“He’s not a great horse breaking out of there,” Ortiz said. “I gave him the time to find his stride, and he did. By the half-mile, he started getting into a rhythm and he wanted to improve his position, so I started letting him do it by his own. By the three-eighths pole, I had to call his attention and he responded right away.
“For a 2-year-old, that was very impressive. He’s a nice horse.”
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