06/03/2010 11:00PM

Right guys on Proviso's side for Just a Game


ELMONT, N.Y. - Separately, the Juddmonte Farms of Khaled Abdullah and trainer Bill Mott have won five of the first 16 runnings of the Just a Game Handicap. Saturday, in the 17th renewal of the Just a Game, a Grade 1, $400,000 turf race for fillies and mares at one mile, Juddmonte and Mott will join forces for the first time with the prohibitive favorite, Proviso.

Proviso, a 5-year-old mare who comes off a nose victory against males in the Grade 1 Frank Kilroe Handicap at Santa Anita on March 6, will face five opponents in the Just a Game, which goes as race 7 on the 13-race card. The way Proviso has trained in recent weeks has given the usually reserved Mott an air of confidence.

"I'm pretty impressed with Proviso," said Mott, whose mare will break from post 6 under Mike Smith. "If she gets a good trip, they'll have to have their running shoes on to beat her. Anything can happen in a horse race, but she's doing really well right now."

Mott won the inaugural Just a Game in 1984 with Elizabeth Bay and won the race again in 2005 with Sand Springs and in 2007 with My Typhoon. Juddmonte won the Just a Game in 2004 with Intercontinental and 2008 with Ventura. Both of those mares were trained by Bobby Frankel.

Mott took over the training of Proviso late last year following Frankel's death in November. In her first start for Mott, Proviso finished second to Gabby's Golden Gal in the Grade 1 Santa Monica Handicap, a seven-furlong race run over Santa Anita's Pro-Ride surface.

In that race, Proviso was stuck behind horses while Gabby's Golden Gal had a clear run and went on to beat Proviso by 1 1/4 lengths.

Back on turf in the Kilroe, Proviso had one horse beaten after a modest three-quarters but came with a flying finish in the final quarter-mile to nip Fluke on the wire by a nose.

"It was impressive that she could do that," Mott said.

Proviso has put in two brilliant works over the Belmont inner turf course, including a Sunday blowout that was officially recorded in 47.45 seconds around a triple set of traffic cones, commonly referred to as dogs.

The only strike against Proviso is that the Just a Game field does not appear to have a lot of speed, and that could make Speak Easy Gal dangerous. Speak Easy Gal is 4 for 4 since being purchased privately by Myron Miller's Farnsworth Stables and transferred to Marty Wolfson. Those wins have come in front-running fashion in distances ranging from 1 1/16 miles to 1 1/2 miles. "I'm not sure there's going to be much pace in there, and she's very tough when there's not much pressure," said Wolfson, who has enlisted the red-hot Javier Castellano to ride.

Wolfson and Miller also have Cherokee Queen, who was purchased privately in March. In her first start for her new connections, Cherokee Queen won the Hollywood Wildcat Handicap from off the pace. Wolfson had removed the blinkers from the mare's equipment for that race and liked what he saw. Garrett Gomez rides.

Phola, trained by Todd Pletcher, has won three straight, two at one mile. She has overcome slow paces under Ramon Dominguez in her last two starts and appears to move up on courses that are less than firm.