06/08/2013 3:25PM

Belmont Park: Stephanie's Kitten gets through to victory in Just a Game

Barbara D. Livingston
Stephanie's Kitten (right) outfinishes Better Lucky in the Just a Game after cutting the corner entering the stretch.

ELMONT, N.Y. - John Velazquez knew Stephanie's Kitten was handling the yielding Widener turf course at Belmont Park very well in Saturday's Grade 1 Just A Game Stakes. It was just a matter of whether he would be able to find some running room when the appropriate time came.

With a quarter-mile left to run, the pacesetting Mizdirection drifted out a path or two and Velazquez shot Stephanie's Kitten on through the opening, then outfinished Better Lucky to win the $500,000 Just A Game by a half-length.

[BELMONT STAKES DAY: Video replays and race results]

It was three lengths back to Hungry Island in third. She was followed in the order of finish by the 5-2 favorite, Centre Court, Mizdirection, and the European import Laugh Out Loud. Dayatthespa, one of five Grade 1 winners entered in the race, scratched because of the soft ground.

The win was the second straight this year and seventh from 12 career starts for Stephanie's Kitten, a 4-year-old daughter of Kitten's Joy owned and bred by Ken and Sarah Ramsey and trained by Wayne Catalano.

"I feel like she's the number-one filly in the United States, what do you think?" Ramsey said immediately after the race.

That case can be made.

Velazquez had Stephanie's Kitten in fifth position, about six lengths off the pace, while Mizdirection, under Mike Smith set fractions of 24.50 seconds and 48.13 for the half-mile.

Velazquez, believing Centre Court was the one to beat, kept his filly inside of her and running with her before it was time to make his move.

After getting through the opening in upper stretch, Stephanie's Kitten hooked up with Better Lucky, who was getting a clear three-wide trip under Joel Rosario. Stephanie's Kitten was able to outkick that rival and complete the mile 1:36.27 over yielding turf. She returned $8 as the co-second choice.

Velazquez, who improved his record to 5 wins from 7 starts aboard Stephanie's Kitten, said he knew his filly wouldn't back down from a prolonged stretch fight.

"Definitely, she's been like that in the past," Velazquez said. "She's a very brave filly - very brave."

Better Lucky, the longest shot in the field at 11-1, ran a game race, but was simply second best.

"The winner cut the corner on us, she ran game, and we got beat a [half-length]," trainer Tom Albertrani said. "No excuses."