The main storyline coming to you from this year’s Grade 1 Diana Stakes at Saratoga is what Chad Brown can do for an encore – times five.
Yes, Brown owns the last five Diana titles and six overall. You expect Saratoga’s premier turf trainer to win Saratoga’s premier filly and mare turf route race. Aside from being Brown’s personal playground the last five years, the 1 1/8-mile Diana doubles as Saratoga’s first Grade 1 race of the season.
It also serves as Brown’s first Grade 1 training victory after he branched out from his apprentice role under the late Bobby Frankel. Brown won the 2011 Diana with Zagora. He’d add a full hand more, starting in 2016 with Dacita. That segued into Lady Eli (2017), Sistercharlie in 2018 and 2019 and Rushing Fall last year. Sistercharlie finished third in that 2020 Diana.
“We’ve had enormous success with it. I’m lucky. We had the right horses,” Brown told podcaster Andy Serling on his “Across the Board with Andy Serling” podcast. “It’s a real honor to have that level of success looking back at five Dianas in a row. These are the (types of) races, Frankel would point toward.”
Brown suits up here with Lemista and Pocket Square
Brown points to this year’s Diana with two candidates in the eight-horse field: Lemista and Pocket Square. Both come to him from Europe, the source of many Brown charges. The 5/2 favorite, Lemista won four consecutive races in Ireland before a 10th in the Group 2 Blandford Stakes derailed her.
Instead, that sent the 4-year-old daughter of Raven’s Pass to Brown. He watched her clock a 100 Beyer Speed Figure in a gutty runner-up finish to Harvey’s Lil Goil in May’s Grade 3 Beaugay at Belmont Park.
“She’s a top-class filly. I have high hopes for her,” Brown told the New York Racing Association. “We’ve been pointing for this race for a while and I’m excited to get to it. I think the time has done her well.”
Could the Diana be Pocket Square’s redemption?
British-bred Pocket Square (8/1) is Brown’s second hope. The 4-year-old daughter of Night of Thunder comes in off a fifth in the Grade 1 Just a Game on the Belmont Stakes undercard. Before that, she won a Keeneland April allowance in her US debut.
“I really thought she was lined up really well going into the Just a Game and I was hopeful she could overcome, but things just didn’t work out,” Brown said about the fifth as the 2.50/1 favorite. “She’s come back and worked really super, so I’m drawing a line through it and going right back at another Grade 1 with her.”
Speaking of the Just a Game, the winner and the runner-up await Brown’s duo in the Saratoga starting gate. And they both pose a significant threat to his Diana dominance.
Here comes the threat to Brown’s Diana streak
That would be Althiqa (3/1) and Summer Romance (4/1). Charlie Appleby trains both Godolphin 4-year-old fillies, who tangled in their last three starts. Althiqa holds a 2-1 edge, by virtue of that Just a Game victory and a score in the Group 2 Cape Verde in Dubai. Summer Romance took the middle race, February’s Group 2 Balanchine in Dubai.
And waiting for all four is Harvey’s Lil Goil (3/1). The 4-year-old daughter of American Pharoah is primed to spoil both Brown’s streak and Appleby’s strong hand. Speaking of strong hands, Harvey’s Lil Goil has one of the strongest in Bill Mott.
The Hall of Fame trainer owns four Diana titles. He captured three in a row from 2005-2007 (Sand Springs, Angara and My Typhoon), then added the 2010 Diana with Proviso. With Harvey’s Lil Goil, Mott sends out a battle-tested filly who won two turf stakes: the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Keeneland and the Grade 3 Beaugay at Belmont Park. She added a third in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf.
Grade 1 Diana Stakes/Saratoga
Morning Line (Jockey/Trainer)
- La Signare, 15/1 (Ricardo Santana Jr./Brendan Walsh)
- Pocket Square, 8/1 (John Velazquez/Chad Brown)
- Magic Attitude, 12/1 (Javier Castellano/Arnaud Delacour)
- Vigilantes Way, 20/1 (Jose Ortiz/Shug McGaughey)
- Harvey’s Lil Goil, 3/1 (Junior Alvarado/Bill Mott)
- Summer Romance, 4/1 (Luis Saez/Charlie Appleby)
- Lemista, 5/2 (Irad Ortiz Jr./Chad Brown)
- Althiqa, 3/1 (Manny Franco/Charlie Appleby)
Harvey’s Lil Goil comes in off a disappointing fifth in the Grade 2 New York on the Belmont Stakes undercard. Mott attributed that to Belmont’s spongy turf and the 10-furlong distance, and said Saratoga’s tighter turns play into Harvey’s Lil Goil’s strength.
“She’s run well on that type of oval previously,” he said. “She won the Queen Elizabeth at Keeneland and she ran good in the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland and that’s a tight turf course, so I don’t think that will hurt her…. She couldn’t be doing any better.”
The pick: Althiqa. All good things must come to an end for Brown and in this case, Mother Nature plays streak spoiler. The forecast is for rain Saturday afternoon and that hampers Pocket Square, along with Mott’s Harvey’s Lil Goil. Brown said Lemista can handle soft turf, but said it was a concern. It isn’t for Althiqa, who hasn’t missed the board in 10 races, running in all conditions.