Updated on 06/13/2011 2:31PM

Stephens: Justin Phillip runs rivals off their feet in the muddy going

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Tom Keyser
Justin Phillip set a fast early pace under Ramon Dominguez and then was not seriously challenged in the Stephens.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Justin Phillip, a 3-year-old colt ridden by Ramon Dominguez, skated through blazing fractions and had enough in the final furlong to hold off his rapidly closing challengers to win the Grade 2, $250,000 Woody Stephens Stakes on Saturday at Belmont Park.

The win provided a legitimate excuse for owner Ahmed Zayat and his entourage to celebrate several hours prior to post of the Belmont Stakes, a race that Zayat hoped to win with another 3-year-old colt, Nehro, the second choice on the morning line. Both Justin Phillip and Nehro are trained by Steve Asmussen.

“One for two! One for two! One for two!” Zayat shouted as he sprinted through the rain into the winner’s circle to embrace Asmussen.

Justin Phillip ran the seven furlongs in 1:23.56, after posting fractions of 22.23 seconds, 44.45, and 1:09.56, when he opened up a five-length lead. The horse was moving with a palpable sense of ease through the first three-quarters of the race, according to Dominguez, before shortening his stride late to win by 3 1/4 lengths over J J’s Lucky Train. Arch Traveler, the 8-5 favorite in the field of five, was third by a nose.

“I was very surprised to see that 44 up there when I came back after the race,” Dominguez said. “He seemed to be keeping an even pace.”

The win was the third in 10 starts for Justin Phillip, a son of First Samurai who had been off since April 23 after fading late to finish third in the Grade 2 Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct over a sloppy track. The Jerome was run at one mile.

“This horse is very well-intended for seven-eighths of a mile,” Asmussen said after the race. “After the Jerome, this race became the target.”

Justin Phillip paid $10.80 to win as the fourth choice.