Call Mike Puype confident, but not quite cocky.
Bringing 2012 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint winner Mizdirection to Belmont Park for the $500,000 Longines Just a Game Stakes June 8, the California horseman has no doubt she's best of the bunch -- and that's saying something.
Five Grade 1 and two Grade 2 winners make up a field of seven fillies and mares for the one-mile turf event, including Centre Court, Stephanie's Kitten, and Hungry Island. But Mizdirection, a 5-year-old charcoal gray with earnings of $1,154,621, has been something special with nine wins and three seconds from 12 turf starts. She has chalked up four straight graded scores launched by that Breeders' Cup effort against the boys -- when she came off a five-month layup last November to get the job done.
Belmont is a new track for the daughter of Mizzen Mast , and with rain in the forecast for June 7 and 8, there are questions about the surface she has traveled to traverse.
"The big unknown equation with her is not her quality; her quality is unquestionable," Puype said at Belmont four days before the race. "Her resume is deeper than any of them, she's made the most money, she's on a win streak, she beat boys on a five-month layoff in the Breeders' Cup.
"The question is going to be, can she straight-up go on that kind of grass? It's thicker, heavier grass that's probably going to have some give in it. Can she handle a Belmont surface and will it be wet? She's been running on fast grass out in California."
Mizdirection, who took the April 13 Las Cienegas Handicap down her beloved hillside turf course at Santa Anita Park, has only shipped from California to run elsewhere once before. She was placed third in the 2011 Raven Run on Keeneland Polytrack after finishing fourth in tight late.
"She'll ship with no trouble, she's fine, we just didn't have a reason to ship her," Puype said. "This race makes the most sense; it's a Grade 1, it's worth $500,000 the whole success she will or won't have this weekend is going to be based on the surface."
Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith gets the call from post 6 aboard Mizdirection, who races for a partnership that includes sports media personality Jim Rome's Jungle Racing and Bill Strauss.
"She'll show up to run, but advice to the bettors, if they're looking at it and they're going to take 5-2, they're taking a chance on if she's going to transfer her form to a different turf course," Puype said. "Like I said, her resume's full, but you can always use another Grade 1, and that's why she's here."
Mizdirection is co-highweighted at 123 pounds with G. Watts Humphrey Jr.'s Centre Court. That rival, a 4-year-old Smart Strike filly who won the April 13 Jenny Wiley Stakes at Keeneland, has been first or second in all but one of 11 starts. Her past three for trainer Rusty Arnold resulted in solid victories in graded stakes; she took the Mrs. Revere at Churchill Downs last November and is undefeated in 2013 with a win in the March 16 Honey Fox Stakes at Gulfstream Park before her Jenny Wiley score by two lengths over Daisy Devine.
Stephanie's Kitten also comes off a victory, hers earned by a neck over Hungry Island in the May 4 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile Stakes presented by Longines. It was the first start of 2013 for Ken and Sarah Ramsey's 2011 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner, who also has the 2012 Woodford Reserve Lake Placid Stakes and Edgewood Stakes to her credit for trainer Wayne Catalano. Under Hall of Fame jockey Joel Rosario, the 4-year-old daughter of Kitten's Joy carries 120 from post 2.
Hungry Island narrowly missed defending her Distaff Turf title for owner Emory Hamilton and Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey. The 5-year-old More Than Ready runner will be ridden by Garrett Gomez and is assigned a 118-pound impost from the rail.
Dayatthespa, owned by Jerry and Ronald Frankel, Steve Laymon, and Bradley Thoroughbreds, won an overnight stakes in her seasonal debut at Belmont May 5 going the Just a Game distance by four lengths after attending the pace. Chad Brown trains the 4-year-old City Zip filly, who will be ridden from post 4 by Javier Castellano. Dayatthespa won the 2012 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland in addition to a pair of Grade 3 events last year.
Godolphin Stable's Better Lucky was fourth behind Centre Court in the Jenny Wiley, her first and only start of the year. The 4-year-old Ghostzapper filly upset the Matriarch Stakes at Betfair Hollywood Park for trainer Tom Albertrani last November at 35-1; she is the 2012 Sands Point Stakes winner. Joel Rosario has the mount from the outside.
Completing the field and running without Lasix is Martin Schwartz's Laugh Out Loud (GB), a British-bred daughter of Clodovil who won the group II Prix de Sandringham at Chantilly last June. The 4-year-old filly makes her North American debut for trainer Jean-Claude Rouget under Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, carrying 118 from post 5.