Just a Game international scouting report: Althiqa and Summer Romance

May 31st, 2021

You’ll be seeing double in Saturday’s Just a Game S. (G1) with a pair of gray fillies both sporting the Godolphin blue. Stablemates of Belmont S. (G1) contender Rebel’s Romance from the Charlie Appleby yard, Althiqa and Summer Romance likewise ship to Belmont Park in pursuit of a first Grade 1 laurel.

The duo have other points in common. The four-year-olds were last seen trading decisions at the Dubai Carnival. Both have won Group races going left-handed around a mile, conditions similar to the Just a Game. Each has just nine starts under her belt, suggesting more could be to come.

Yet there are differences. Summer Romance made a big splash early, and occasionally found herself in more ambitious spots, while Althiqa has climbed the ladder methodically. Summer Romance is feast or famine, but Althiqa is a picture of consistency. The two complement each other tactically as well: the fizzier Summer Romance tends to use her early speed, while Althiqa can camp behind the vanguard or further off the pace.

Since Althiqa and Summer Romance will be squaring off for the third straight time in the Just a Game, we’ll cover both in a shared scouting report.

Althiqa’s pedigree

Bred by Godolphin in Great Britain, Althiqa is by a leading speed influence in Dark Angel, sire of such outstanding sprinters as Battaash and Mecca’s Angel. But Dark Angel can get major performers at a mile or so, including multiple Grade 1 winner Raging Bull stateside.

Appleby also trained Althiqa’s dam, stakes winner Mistrusting, who a compiled 7-4-2-0 career mark, all in sprints. A daughter of Shamardal and 2009 Cherry Hinton (G2) winner Misheer, by Oasis Dream, Mistrusting scored her signature victory in the six-furlong Boadicea S. at Newmarket. She also won a pair of handicaps over seven.

Althiqa’s juvenile full sister, Before Dawn, was a promising second in her debut May 15. Entered in a Kempton maiden Wednesday, she holds an engagement in the June 27 Airlie Stud (G2) at the Curragh.

Summer Romance’s pedigree

An €800,000 Godolphin purchase at Arqana’s May breeze-up sale for two-year-olds in training, Summer Romance was bred in Ireland by Round Hill Stud. She had first sold for 300,000 guineas as a Tattersalls October yearling.

By champion and terrific young sire Kingman, whose progeny include current mile star Palace Pier, Summer Romance is a half-sister to Irish highweight juvenile filly and multiple Group 1 queen Rizeena. Their dam, Serena’s Storm, is herself a half to highly regarded Queen Power, the recent Middleton (G2) romper; French Group 1 victor Zabeel Prince; and multiple Australian Group 2 scorer Puissance de Lune. Serena’s Storm is by Statue of Liberty (a Storm Cat half to Lemon Drop Kid), and she hails from the family of Hall of Famer Serena’s Song.

Althiqa at two and three

Althiqa was precocious enough to win first out as a juvenile in May 2019, rallying in a five-furlong maiden at Thirsk. Not seen again at two, she underwent a procedure to correct a breathing issue that fall.

Resurfacing last June at Newmarket, Althiqa bolted up by 7 1/2 lengths in a seven-furlong novice. She traveled ominously well from a stalking spot, if still a shade green when driving clear. Her three rivals were strung out behind her.

Up to listed company for the Eternal Fillies’ S. at Haydock, Althiqa was a close third. The 5-2 favorite was held up further back from a wide post, and got a seam between foes, but in an intimidating spot for an inexperienced filly. Group 3 veteran Under the Stars bore down on her en route to victory – the Racing Post notes that Althiqa was bumped in the last furlong – and runner-up Jovial held her position inside. Jockey William Buick was treating Althiqa tenderly in those final strides.

Althiqa ventured to Deauville for the about seven-furlong Prix Amandine, where she earned her listed win as the 2.70-1 favorite. She raced in striking distance, then had to work to prevail over My Love’s Passion, who puts the form in context. Placed versus males at the Group 2 and Group 3 level, My Love’s Passion was dropping in class after a sixth in the French 1000 Guineas (G1).

“We came here with the intention of winning this listed (race),” Appleby told Jour de Galop. “She's tough and brave and I knew she wouldn't give up if she had to fight. This success is deserved. She achieved her goal and now she deserves to take a little vacation.”

Althiqa’s holiday was postponed, for she wheeled back for the Oak Tree (G3) versus elders at Glorious Goodwood. She performed well on the class hike in a staying-on third, beaten only a length by multiple Group 1 heroine One Master. Althiqa tried to keep her bottled up, but One Master was too strong and burst through.

Looking as though she could appreciate another furlong, Althiqa attempted a metric mile for the first time in the Prix de Lieurey (G3) back at Deauville. She was anchored at the rear on heavy going, but showed her good attitude to plug on for second to the 22-1 Irska, a mudlark who was in her element. Jour de Galop paid tribute to Althiqa for having a heart bigger than her body. The key collateral form comes via third-placer Cloak of Spirits, previously runner-up to Love in the 1000 Guineas (G1) and to Summer Romance at Epsom (discussed below), and later third in the Sun Chariot (G1).

Althiqa concluded her busy summer when second as the 7-2 favorite in the Sceptre (G3). Turning back to seven furlongs at Doncaster, she chased the leaders, struck the front, and got outkicked by 18-1 elder Foxtrot Lady. The race set up for closers, and Althiqa fared best of the pace factors.

Summer Romance at two and three

Favored in all four starts as a juvenile, Summer Romance made such an impression in summer 2019 that she topped the antepost market for the 1000 Guineas. After making short work of three rivals in her Yarmouth debut on soft, she dominated on good-to-firm in Newmarket’s Empress Fillies’ S.

Appleby’s initial plan was to step up to seven furlongs later in the summer. But Summer Romance instead came right back for the six-furlong Princess Margaret (G3) at Ascot, only to suffer her first loss in a non-threatening sixth behind Under the Stars. Keyed up pre-race and never traveling, she was lame in her right hind afterward. It couldn’t have been anything significant since Summer Romance was fit to run again in the Dick Poole Fillies’ S. (G3) at Salisbury. Although a decent third after not breaking alertly, she lacked her former verve and took the rest of the season off.

Summer Romance made her sophomore bow in the 1000 Guineas. By this time a 22-1 shot, she couldn’t land a blow after another slow start, and wound up eighth behind Love. Yet Buick observed that her effort was sneakily good:

“She ran in the Guineas, but I wasn’t in a good position. I had a wall of bad horses in front of me. It was hard to notice it with the naked eye, but she did a lot of good work in the Guineas. She was staying on past horses.”

Overlooked at 9-1 in the Princess Elizabeth (G3) at Epsom, Summer Romance was back to her best using her early speed in the about 8 1/2-furlong affair. She got away with soft fractions and turned the tables on Guineas runner-up Cloak of Spirits, with next-out Musidora (G3) winner Rose of Kildare third.

Summer Romance took another crack at Group 1 level, but the Prix Rothschild (G1) at Deauville didn’t pan out for her. Bowling on the front again, she expended too much energy early, retreated to last of six, and headed to the sidelines. The victorious Watch Me clocked the metric mile in a fast 1:34.05.

2021 Dubai Carnival jousts

Althiqa and Summer Romance both returned to action in the Jan. 28 Cape Verdi (G2). Buick rode Summer Romance, and the market picked up on the signal by making her the 9-4 joint favorite (with Saeed bin Suroor’s Stunning Beauty). But she ended up needing the race off the layoff, especially given her frontrunning style and exuberant nature. Summer Romance dashed clear before weakening to fifth.

Conversely, Althiqa relished the strong-run metric mile. Given a patient ride by James Doyle, the 7-2 chance stormed from last to first in a new career high. Her time of 1:35.08 was just off the 1:34.84 Meydan course record.

Buick switched to Althiqa for the rematch in the about nine-furlong Balanchine (G2), leaving Doyle to pick up Summer Romance. Once again the market was led astray by jockey bookings. Althiqa was hammered into 8-11 favoritism, but this time circumstances suited the 5-1 Summer Romance.

Fitter, more relaxed, and adding a hood, Summer Romance enjoyed her ideal scenario to boss the race through a slow tempo. Althiqa was carrying three pounds more, over a new distance that arguably stretched her, in a race shape that didn’t favor her. Thus her late rally for third was commendable.

Just a Game looks more like Cape Verdi

In his post-Balanchine comments, Appleby admitted there’s not much between his fillies. Keeping a lid on Summer Romance, both before and during the race, was vital:

“It was a tough call for William Buick to choose between Summer Romance and Althiqa, because you really can’t split them at home. Summer Romance was too keen on the front end in the Cape Verdi…

“We changed the dynamics slightly this evening. We tried to miss as much of the preliminaries as possible with her and we have also kept the hood on her in the race.”

Considering that Buick sided with the loser in both Carnival meetings, how is a handicapper to decide between the Godolphin grays at Belmont? Ground is unlikely to be a determining factor on Saturday. Temperament could be, since Althiqa is more reliable and Summer Romance needs to keep calm.

Perhaps it’s simplest to forecast how the Just a Game might unfold. On paper, it bears a resemblance to the Cape Verdi. As a one-turn mile with a potentially lively pace, the Just a Game could be a perfect fit for Althiqa, who gets Hall of Famer Mike Smith. On the other hand, Summer Romance didn’t need the lead earlier in her career, and she can revert to a close tracking trip. New rider Luis Saez should play to her strengths.