(Gina Romantica at Keeneland / Coady Media)

From the NYRA Media Team / Keith McCalmont:

Four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown will have five chances to win a record-extending seventh edition of Friday’s Grade 1, $500,000 Just a Game, a one-mile inner turf test for older fillies and mares, at Saratoga Race Course on Day Two of the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival.

 

The Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, which spans Thursday through Sunday, is highlighted by the 156th edition of the Grade 1, $2 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on Saturday, June 8. The four-day Festival will include 24 stakes races with purses totaling $10.25 million, the highest purse levels and number of stakes offered since the launch of the multi-day Festival in 2014.

 

Brown will saddle Grade 1-winners Gina Romantica [post 3, Tyler Gaffalione, 124 pounds], Beaute Cachee [post 2, Manny Franco, 124 pounds], and Whitebeam [post 7, Flavien Prat, 124 pounds] as well as dual graded stakes-winner Chili Flag [post 6, Irad Ortiz, Jr., 122 pounds] and Grade 2-placed Coppice [post 4, Frankie Dettori, 118 pounds].

 

Peter Brant, who campaigned the 1980 Champion Grass Mare Just a Game, has teamed up with Brown to win the last two runnings of this event with Regal Glory [2022] and In Italian [2023]. Brown has also won the Just a Game with Antonoe [2017], A Raving Beauty [2018], Rushing Fall [2019] and Newspaperofrecord [2020].

 

Brant and Brown will look to complete the natural hat trick with Gina Romantica, a 5-year-old Into Mischief mare, arriving from an uncharacteristic seventh-place finish in her seasonal debut in the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley won by stablemate and returning rival Beaute Cachee on April 13 at Keeneland. She has worked back six times, including a five-eighths solo breeze in 1:00.21 Friday over the Oklahoma training turf.

 

“I was a little disappointed at Keeneland for her, but in hindsight, she might have needed the race,” Brown said. “She was kind of hemmed up a little bit inside and wasn’t happy. I’ve been keeping my eye on her to get a feel for if she’s going to have a chance to get back to her top form from last year. Her last couple of works, she seems to be headed that way.”

 

Gina Romantica won the restricted one-mile Riskaverse in August 2022 in her lone start over the Spa turf, closing from deep to win by 1 1/4-lengths two starts before taking the nine-furlong Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup that October at Keeneland.

 

Last year, she added Keeneland’s one-mile Grade 1 First Lady to her ledger, besting stablemate In Italian by a head before closing to finish fourth just one length back of the victorious Master of The Seas when racing against the boys in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Mile at Del Mar.

 

Madaket Stables, Michael Dubb and Louis Lazzinnaro’s Beaute Cachee exited the outermost post 10 in the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley to wire the field and make the grade, while earning a career-best 101 Beyer Speed Figure.

 

The 5-year-old French-bred Literato mare has hit the board in all six starts for Brown since joining his barn last year through a 6-3-2-1 record, taking the Listed Violet in September at Monmouth Park along with a good third in the Grade 1 Matriarch in December at Del Mar.

 

Juddmonte’s British-homebred Whitebeam boasts a formidable 6-2-2-0 record for Brown after previously being campaigned by Harry and Roger Charlton in Europe.

 

The 5-year-old Caravaggio mare captured a key renewal of the Grade 3 Gallorette last May at Pimlico, a race that runner-up Sopran Basilea exited to win Delaware Park’s Grade 3 Robert G. Dick Memorial and third-place Bipartisanship followed with a win in the restricted President’s Cup at Parx.

 

She followed by nosing out In Italian in the Grade 1 Diana in July at the Spa before fourth-place efforts in the Grade 1 First Lady in October at Keeneland and Grade 1 Matriarch in December at Del Mar to close out her campaign.

 

Whitebeam arrives from a runner-up effort in the 1 1/16-mile Grade 3 Beaugay in her seasonal debut on May 11 at Belmont at the Big A, where she pressed the pace of Spirit And Glory and took a slim lead late only to be nailed at the wire by Neecie Marie, who is entered in Friday’s Grade 1, $750,000 New York presented by Rivers Casino.

 

“Her first race it looked like she might have needed it,” Brown said. “I was disappointed she didn’t come up on the winning end of it, but she seems to have bounced out of it in good shape and moved forward in her works. We know she likes Saratoga and she ran well here last year. Hopefully, she can get right back to good form.”

 

Madaket Stables, Michael Dubb and Michael Kisber’s Chili Flag has won three of her last four outings, arriving from rallying scores traveling one-mile in the Grade 3 Honey Fox in March at Gulfstream Park and the Grade 2 Distaff Turf Mile on May 4 at Churchill Downs.

 

The 5-year-old French-bred Cityscape chestnut won the Forever Together in November at Aqueduct before a close sixth in the Grade 2 Pegasus World Cup Filly and Mare Turf Invitational in January at Gulfstream when 2 1/2-lengths back of the victorious Didia, who is also entered in Friday’s Grade 1 New York.

 

Juddmonte’s British-homebred Coppice was away awkwardly and slow into stride while making her stateside debut in the Grade 2 Distaff Turf Mile, but came flying late to miss by a neck to Chili Flag. She has worked back twice, including a five-eighths effort in 1:01.85 in company with Grade 1-winner McKulick Friday over the Oklahoma training turf.

 

“She did everything but win [at Churchill],” Brown said. “We’ve been very high on the horse and she had a wonderful winter for us down at Payson. She’s come out of there [the Distaff Turf Mile] well. She’s had a couple works and she’s very sharp.”

 

Coppice won the Rosemary in September at Newmarket for John and Thady Gosden one month before finishing fourth to the victorious Inspiral in the Group 1 Sun Chariot at Newmarket in her final European start.

 

RyZan Sun Racing and Madaket Stables’ dual Grade 3-winner Mission of Joy [post 1, John Velazquez, 120 pounds] enters from a fourth-place effort in the Distaff Turf Mile when 4 3/4-lengths back of Chili Flag. The 4-year-old Kitten’s Joy chestnut was making her first start since landing fifth in the Grade 2 Pegasus World Cup Filly and Mare Invitational.

 

“She was a little disappointing. I thought she came up a little short,” trainer Graham Motion said. “I missed some time with her in Florida and had originally planned to run at Keeneland and had to go to Plan B and ran at Churchill. I thought she just got a little tired.”

 

Mission of Joy breezed five-eighths in 1:01.20 Friday over the all-weather surface at Fair Hill in company with Sparkle Blue, who is entered in Friday’s Grade 1 New York.

 

“She’s doing really well,” Motion said. “I thought they worked awesome together, particularly Mission of Joy and that really encouraged me to go on to this race. This race is one we always had circled. I think this course will suit her.”

 

Mission of Joy captured the 1 1/16-mile Grade 3 Florida Oaks last year at Tampa Bay Downs and added Churchill Downs’ nine-furlong Grade 3 Regret to her ledger two starts later. She was a close third in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup in October at Keeneland to close out her sophomore season.

 

Bred in Ontario by Sam-Son Farm, Mission of Joy is out of the Smart Strike mare Smart Mission whose half-sister Irish Mission was a dual Sovereign Award winner in Canada.

 

Rounding out a talented field is The Estate of Robert J. Amendola’s dual graded stakes-winner Evvie Jets [post 5, Dylan Davis, 122 pounds], who did not handle the good going at Churchill when eighth last out in the Grade 2 Distaff Turf Mile.

 

Trained by Mertkan Kantarmaci, the 6-year-old Twirling Candy bay has performed well at Saratoga with a record of 4-2-1-0 led by a memorable head score in last year’s Grade 2 Ballston Spa when surging up the rail to best Fluffy Socks by a head at odds of 29-1.

 

The versatile Evvie Jets, bred in Kentucky by Farfellow Farms, has also demonstrated the speed required to wire a field as she did in taking the Listed Plenty of Grace last April at Aqueduct and the Listed Perfect String last July at Belmont Park. She pressed the pace en route to a 1 1/4-length score in the 2022 Grade 3 Noble Damsel.

 

Claimed for $80,000 in September 2021 having won one of seven starts, Evvie Jets has now banked $777,768 through a 24-7-6-3 record.

 

The Just a Game is slated as Race 10 on Friday’s 12-race card which co-features the Grade 1, $750,000 New York presented by Rivers Casino in Race 11, the Grade 1, $500,000 DK Horse Acorn in Race 12, and the Grade 2, $200,000 Intercontinental presented by MTV Solutions in Race 9. First post is 12:20 p.m. Eastern.

 

America’s Day at the Races will present daily coverage and analysis of the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival at Saratoga Race Course on the networks of FOX Sports. For the complete broadcast schedule, visit https://www.belmontstakes.com/event-info/tv-schedu….