First, there’s the presence of trainer Chad Brown, who has a hammerlock on the Diana Stakes. Then, there’s one of the best non-Breeders’ Cup fields you’ll see all year. That’s how you get a race as competitive as the Grade 1 Diana Stakes, Sunday’s marquee race at Saratoga – and Sunday’s marquee race period.

Sistercharlie-Diana Stakes
John Velazquez and Sistercharlie, seen here powering their way to the 2019 Diana Stakes title, go for the three-peat today in the Grade 1 race at Saratoga. The Chad Brown-trainee is the 5/2 second favorite. (Image: Skip Dickstein/Times Union)

The Diana sends older fillies and mares 1 1/8 miles around Saratoga’s Mellon Turf Course. That’s the condensed, Reader’s Digest version of the race. It only scratches the surface of the six-horse field’s depth. Just as it only scratches the surface of Brown’s dominance in this event.

The turf maestro seeks his sixth victory in the Diana and his fifth consecutive trip to the winner’s circle. And Brown does this sending 5/2 Sistercharlie in search of her third consecutive Diana victory. Should the 6-year-old mare complete the three-peat, she’ll create her own Diana Stakes winner’s club. A club with a membership of one: her.

Sistercharlie is one of five horses going back-to-back in a race dating to 1939. Forever Together in 2008-09 was the last before her. Miss Grillo in 1946-47 was the first.

“That would be an amazing accomplishment,” Brown told the New York Racing Association.

Even With This Resume, Sistercharlie Isn’t the Favorite

Make no mistake, Sistercharlie is good. She’s the 2018 Eclipse Award Champion Turf Female, winner of seven North American Grade 1 races — including the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf – and 10 races in 16 starts.

But, this field is so deep, Sistercharlie isn’t your Diana favorite.

That would be Brown’s other horse: Rushing Fall (3/2). We last saw the five-time Grade 1 winner win that fifth Grade 1 in early July at Keeneland. There, Rushing Fall outkicked a game Jolie Olimpica in deep stretch to win the Jenny Wiley by less than a length. She too has a Breeders’ Cup title — the 2017 Juvenile Fillies Turf – along with Grade 1 wins at ages 2, 3, 4 and 5.

Rushing Fall also has a chip on her shoulder, losing to Sistercharlie in last year’s Diana despite rolling up a career-tying-best 103 Beyer Speed Figure. Rushing Fall clocked 103 Beyers in four of her last five races, including both her victories this year: the Grade 3 Beaugay at Belmont Park in June and the Jenny Wiley.

No Diana Stakes Brown-Fecta This Year

Alas, Brown must content himself sending out only two horses with a combined 12 Grade 1 victories – two of those Breeders’ Cups. That means he can’t repeat his Diana Brown-fecta from last year, when Sistercharlie, Rushing Fall, and Homerique went 1-2-3.

As good as Brown is in this event and on turf, he isn’t invincible. Saturday at Saratoga, Brown sent out four standouts in the Grade 1 Fourstardave, including 2019 Eclipse Award Champion Older Female Uni, the 2/1 favorite. All four missed the board, as Todd Pletcher’s 5/1 Halladay went gate-to-wire.

Diana Stakes

Morning Line (Jockey)

  1. Call Me Love, 8/1 (Joel Rosario)
  2. Secret Message, 20/1 (Irad Ortiz Jr.)
  3. Rushing Fall, 3/2 (Javier Castellano)
  4. Starship Jubilee, 9/2 (Jose Ortiz)
  5. Sistercharlie, 5/2 (John Velazquez)
  6. Mean Mary, 3/1 (Luis Saez)

So, if you see chinks in Brown’s turf-colored armor, there are options, starting with Mean Mary (3/1). The Graham Motion trainee comes into the gate riding a four-race winning streak. Included in that are three graded stakes victories, the La Prevoyante and Orchid at Gulfstream Park, and the New York at Belmont.

After winning the 1 ½-mile Le Prevoyante and the 1 ¼-mile New York, Motion is curious to see how the 4-year-old handles the Diana’s distance cutback. He’s targeting Mean Mary for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, run at 1 3/16 miles.

Mean Mary Means Business

“She’s been pointing to this race for a long time,” Motion said. “With the Breeders’ Cup, I need to find out if she can handle these shorter distances. She certainly did before we started running her at these longer races, but not at this level.”

The other intriguing non-Brown entry is a familiar face to two Diana competitors, Starship Jubilee (9/2). The oldest horse in the field at 7, Starship Jubilee upset both Sistercharlie and Call Me Love (8/1) in last month’s Ballston Spa at Saratoga. Call Me Love was second, while Sistercharlie finished third as the 2/5 favorite.

Starship Jubilee also comes into the Diana with a four-race winning streak, all of those stakes victories. The former claimer owns 18 victories from 36 starts.

The pick: Rushing Fall. Brown finds the winner’s circle again with the horse who currently owns better form.