Two-time Eclipse Award winner Chad Brown will hold a strong hand on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course as he seeks his fourth training victory in the Grade 1, $500,000 Diana Stakes for fillies and mares on the grass with an accomplished trio of Sistercharlie, A Raving Beauty, and New Money Honey.
The 80th running of the 1 1/8-mile Diana, the first Grade 1 of American racing's premier 40-day meet, will be joined on Saturday by the Grade 3, $150,000 Sanford for 2-year-olds.
2018 Diana Stakes Odds & Entries
Race 10 on Saratoga's Saturday card with a Post Time of 6:18 PM
|1||Sistercharlie (IRE)||9-5||John Velazquez||Chad Brown|
|2||Proctor's Ledge||4-1||Jose Ortiz||Brendan Walsh|
|3||New Money Honey||8-1||Javier Castellano||Chad Brown|
|4||War Canoe||50-1||Dylan Davis||Gary Contessa|
|5||Ultra Brat||8-1||Joel Rosario||H. Motion|
|6||A Raving Beauty (GER)||2-1||Irad Ortiz, Jr.||Chad Brown|
|7||Hawksmoor (IRE)||6-1||Julien Leparoux||Arnaud Delacour|
Peter M. Brant's Sistercharlie will be cutting back in distance on the Mellon turf course following a close runner-up finish in the 1 ¼-mile Grade 2 New York on June 8 at Belmont Park. In that race, her third since arriving at Brown's barn in 2017, the 4-year-old Irish-bred filly by Myboycharlie was bumped at the start and navigated through rivals with a late run to finish a head behind stablemate Fourstar Crook. In her seasonal debut, Sistercharlie came back from a nearly nine-month layoff to post a gutsy, 2 ¼-length victory in the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley on April 14 at Keeneland.
"She was able to shorten up all the way to a mile and a sixteenth in the Jenny Wiley and ran quite well last time [in the New York]," said Brown, who previously won the Diana with Zagora (2011), Dacita (2016), and Lady Eli (2017). "She just didn't get a good trip, got away from the gate slow and ran into a little traffic at the rear of the field. She got a very late start to her run and just missed. I think she ran a really good race. All three of her races have been outstanding for us. Hopefully, she can get away from the gate a little better this time and get some position. There appears to be a little more pace in this race."
Hall of Famer John Velazquez, who has been aboard for all three of Sistercharlie's North American starts, has the return call. Installed as the 9-5 morning-line favorite, the pair will break from the rail.
A Raving Beauty is undefeated in two starts in North America for owners Michael Dubb, Madaket Stables and Bethlehem Stables, capped by a three-quarter-length score last time out in the Grade 1 Just a Game on Belmont Stakes Day. Group 1-placed in Italy before moving to the U.S. for a 2018 campaign, the 5-year-old German-bred Mastercraftsman mare won her continental unveiling in impressive fashion, tracking the early place before kicking clear in the stretch to win the Grade 3 Beaugay by three lengths on May 12.
A Raving Beauty, 2-1 on the morning line, will be ridden by Irad Ortiz, Jr. from post 6.
"She's a little keen [early] but very manageable," Brown said. "She should have a good early position in the race and Irad gets along with her really well. In both of her starts, despite the fact that she pulls a little, he's gotten her to settle down early in her race and I think he's gotten the best out of her. I don't see the added distance [being] a problem."
Rounding out the Brown triumvirate is e Five Racing's New Money Honey, exiting a neck victory in an optional claiming race on June 21, her first start of the year. The Medaglia d'Oro filly won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf in 2016 and returned as a sophomore to win the Grade 3 Wonder Again and Grade 1 Belmont Oaks in 2017.
"You'd think as an older horse, she'd get faster and she's training like she will," said Brown. "She had a top-notch year last year and maybe she had a few too many races at the end of last year and she just wasn't herself. We gave her a nice break and she came back good in that allowance race. She's training very well."
New Money Honey, 8-1, will break from post 3 with Hall of Famer Javier Castellano aboard.
Among those looking to upset the Brown train are Patricia L. Moseley's homebred Proctor's Ledge, who swept last summer's 3-year-old turf stakes for fillies with wins in the Grade 3 Lake George and the Grade 2 Lake Placid at Saratoga. She earned her first victory since the Lake Placid two starts back with a half-length win in the Grade 2 Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day. Last time out, the 4-year-old daughter of Ghostzapper finished second in the Just a Game, running in midpack early and dug in down the stretch to get within a length of A Raving Beauty.
"Obviously, it's a Grade 1, so it's going to be a tough spot, but she looks like she fits in there," said trainer Brendan Walsh. "She's been able to run with those fillies all year. We're happy with her and she's doing great, so we're very confident she can run her best race and hopefully, it'll be good enough and we'll get some luck and be thereabouts.
"The last race, the one-turn mile at Belmont, was a fast time and that probably took her off her feet a little bit more than normal early, but she loved Saratoga last year and a mile and an eighth won't be any problem at all," he continued. "She's very easy to do whatever with. She's pretty automatic to ride, she can adjust in any scenario. She loved it up there last year and it worked out well for her. Hopefully, she'll like it as much this year. She's doing great and we couldn't be happier with her."
Proctor's Ledge, 4-1, will have the services of Jose Ortiz from post 2.
Graham Motion trainee Ultra Brat will try to replicate her most recent effort, a 10 ¼-length win in the Grade 3 Gallorette on May 19 at Pimlico Race Course. Owned and bred by Alex G. Campbell, the 5-year-old Uncle Mo mare won the Grade 3 Marshua's River in her season opener and finished third in the Grade 3 Suwannee River in February before finishing a dull 10th in the Jenny Wiley.
"I'd like to think I've given her plenty of time since that race because it was a big effort and I wanted to give her enough time to get over it," said Motion. "She's done really well and I think she deserves another shot at a Grade 1. In the race at Keeneland, I didn't think she had the best trip, to be honest. She was very wide and things just didn't work out very well. I think when she did kind of make a move, she was very wide and lost all chance.
"I think if she can run to the form of her best races, she can certainly be competitive and get a piece of it," he added. "She really hasn't done much wrong at all. I think she's better this year, and with that in mind, I think she deserves a shot in a race like this. I wasn't planning originally to run her this weekend, but I felt like she was doing really well and it's a good opportunity to take a shot in a Grade 1 with her on what should be a really nice turf course."
At 8-1, Ultra Brat will be ridden by Joel Rosario from post 5.
War Canoe testing deep waters in Saturday's G1 Diana
Martin Harrigan's War Canoe is a decided long shot in Saturday's $500,000 Diana, the first Grade 1 on the Saratoga stakes calendar, listed at 50-1 on the morning line. Though she owns five wins and has finished in the top three in 17 of 20 career starts, the New York-bred mare has never faced graded company.
Trained by Gary Contessa, War Canoe has mostly faced claiming horses and has but one previous stakes attempt to her credit, finishing third by a half-length at odds of 38-1 in the Mount Vernon against fellow state-breds May 28 at Belmont.
"I was talking to the owner and he said, `How about trying the Diana? It's always a short field.' I said, `Sure, I'll try it,' because I know she's going to try," Contessa said. "If she runs dead last, I guarantee you she's going to give me everything she's got. But, if she can finish second or third, she has just enhanced her pedigree incredibly.
"I know I'm up against it, but [1 1/8 miles] is her distance and she's a little pit bull. She never doesn't show up," he added. "We ran her in a stake and she damn near won it. She was a long shot there, too. We run her claiming, she wins. We run her for an allowance, she's right there. She never fails to fire. She's a tiny little thing with a huge heart."
A bay daughter of Lemon Drop Kid, whose multiple Grade 1 wins included the Belmont Stakes and the Travers at Saratoga in 1999, War Canoe came from off the pace to win a second-level optional claimer June 29 over the Belmont turf in her most recent start. She will break from post-position 4 in a field of seven where each of her rivals have won graded-stakes, three of them Grade 1.
"I'm not embarrassed to be 50-1 in a Grade 1. But, believe me, she's got heart. She's 100 percent racehorse," Contessa said. "If you watch that race tomorrow and watch her body language, she is going to try. She only needs to pass a couple to start getting paid and she only needs to pass four to really enhance her future, so it's worth it.
"We're taking a shot, but she's a neat little filly," he added. "I can always run her back in the [$150,000 Yaddo August 24] against New York-breds, and that's plenty of time to recover. But, if she gets lucky tomorrow and somebody falters or a couple get in a speed duel, whatever, she just might clean up. So, we've got to take a shot."
Among other horses Contessa has this year at Saratoga are stakes winner Runaway Lute, sixth in last year's Grade 1 Hopeful and pointing to the $100,000 John Morrissey for New York-breds on July 26; Red Zinger, third in the Rockville Centre Stakes for 2-year-old state-breds July 14 in his career debut; and 2-year-old New York-bred filly Maiden Beauty, winner of the Lynbrook July 15.
"I think I have a great group of 2-year-olds. I think I'm as good on 2-year-olds as I've ever been, and I usually win one or two here every year. When [trainer Todd] Pletcher's horse stumbles, I win," Contessa said. "I have a very diverse, very good group of horses. I think I'm well-represented."