We are up to the point in the summer when the Big Summer Destination Meets are getting underway. Last weekend, Del Mar got off and running. This Friday, Saratoga opens. Saturday's card at the Spa features the first Grade I of the meet, the Diana Stakes . That race, for turf route fillies and mares, covers nine furlongs over the grass. The card features one other graded stakes race as well, the Grade III Sanford Stakes. The Sanford is open to juveniles, and covers six furlongs: about as long as any two-year-old race, this time of year.
Paul Mazur will provide bicoastal coverage of Sunday's Grade I racing: the Coaching Club American Oaks (GI) for sophomore fillies at Saratoga, and the Bing Crosby Stakes (GI) for older sprinters at Del Mar.
Originally, Picks and Ponderings had also planned to provide full preview and recap coverage of the Springfield Stakes at Arlington Park, for three-year-old Illinois-breds. However, the race was cancelled due to lack of nominees. Our coverage of stakes racing at Arlington will resume on August 1, with the Isaac Murphy Handicap and the Addison Cammack Handicap.
As with all racing at Saratoga, Belmont, and Aqueduct, audio of these races is streamed on the NYRA website, and HD video is available to anyone with a free NYRA account. Horse Racing Radio Network will also live-stream the Diana and the Sanford on its website as part of its Saratoga Saturdays. That broadcast will run from 5:00-6:00pm EDT.
Selections for the Diana Stakes are made for turf only. As of publish time, the Diana was set for the Mellon Turf, with the rail twelve feet out. Morning lines were not available at original publish time. Updated July 23 to add morning lines and HRRN broadcast information. Updated July 25 to reflect the scratch of PAYNES PRAIRIE.
Race 9: Sanford Stakes (GIII), two-year-olds, six furlongs on the dirt, post time 5:32pm EDT
The Sanford Stakes will be run for the 101st time this year. The race was inaugurated in 1913 at its current six-furlong distance, and named the Sanford Memorial Stakes in homage to carpet magnate and congressman Stephen Sanford, who had died earlier in the year. Sanford began campaigning horses at Saratoga around 1880. Horses like 1890 Belmont Futurity winner Potomac, 1900 Toboggan Handicap winner Voter, and 42-time winner Clifford made Sanford a familiar face in the winners' circles of New York. His sons John and Stephen also successfully campaigned racehorses; the race has been known by its current name, in honour of the Sanford family at large, since 1927.
Two Triple Crown winners have won the Sanford Stakes during their juvenile campaign: Secretariat (1972) and Affirmed (1977). The Sanford is the first of three graded stakes for open two-year-old company during the Saratoga meet, and four runners have swept the Sanford, the Saratoga Special, and the Hopeful: Regret (1914), Campfire (1916), Dehere (1993), and City Zip (2000). However, the Sanford may be best remembered for a horse who did not win it. In 1919, Harry Payne Whitney's colt Upset won the Sanford -- handing Man o' War the only loss of his career.
Dehere sweeps ahead to a commanding victory in the 1993 Sanford Stakes. He would go on to win all three graded stakes for open juveniles that summer at Saratoga.
This year's edition of the Sanford Stakes, a $150,000 affair for juveniles, drew a field of eleven. That field includes the winner of the only graded stakes race for open two-year-olds in the United States so far this year: HE'S COMIN IN HOT, the frontrunning winner of the Bashford Manor (GIII) at Churchill on June 27. The issue with HE'S COMIN IN HOT, and why this space cannot place him on top, lies with the pace: HE'S COMIN IN HOT has only shown his best in his last two starts -- races when he was able to get to the front and stay there. Even though PAYNES PRAIRIE scratched from the race, plenty of speed remains: AWESOME SLEW, MAGNA LIGHT, and PERCOLATOR have also shown the tendency to get to the front. With that, the pace should also be coming in hot, setting up nicely for someone ready to pounce in the later stages. Perhaps HE'S COMIN IN HOT has improved, and can at least hang on for a share. The class is certainly there. However, the setup should be far better for TWIRLING CINNAMON. He has only raced once, but showed a lot in that start. Despite having nowhere to go until the stretch, he split horses and ran down favoured Metal Magic. He showed strong professionalism and gameness in that victory, and he should have at least as much pace to attack here. The humans behind him also inspire confidence. Julien Leparoux, aboard for that maiden win, returns to the irons. Trainer Brad Cox wins at 20% with last-out maiden winners -- and 24% of the time with shippers. Another one who should be rallying late is COCKED AND LOADED. Though any keen follower of Arlington or Hawthorne likely associates trainer Larry Rivelli with speed merchants, COCKED AND LOADED has come from off the pace to win both of his starts. Granted, he did not move to the Rivelli barn until after his first start, but what worked at Keeneland worked in the Tremont Stakes at Belmont as well: a handful of lengths back early, he mustered a sharp rally. That style should suit him here, and his speeds fit the field well. He also gets rider Irad Ortiz back from that Tremont Stakes win.
This space continues to take a stand against morning-line favourite UNCLE VINNY. Hard urged in his maiden win and no factor in the Tremont, this son of Uncle Mo has not shown nearly enough to justify the buckets of Pletcher At The Spa money that will be flung his way. With horses who have shown far more in this field, taking a short price to hope UNCLE VINNY improves seems folly.
#9 TWIRLING CINNAMON (10/1)
#8 COCKED AND LOADED (3/1)
#6 HE'S COMIN IN HOT (4/1)
Longshot: #3 JOHN Q. PUBLIC (20/1) dives into far deeper waters here than he did on debut. However, that debut had him in some traffic early, and then rallying from off a hot early pace to dispatch emphatically with a field of maidens at Ellis. The speed figure doesn't impress, but what would have been the need? He won by open lengths. That was just on July 5; since then, he has shipped out to the Spa and put up a sharp four-furlong move on the training track. He will have to prove his class here, but perhaps bettors will dismiss JOHN Q. PUBLIC at the windows as one of D. Wayne Lukas's ambitious placements, or as Some Pea Patch Horse. With the likely hot pace in front of him, JOHN Q. PUBLIC has every chance to outrun his odds and get a piece of the Sanford.
Race 10: Diana Stakes (GI), three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, one and one eighth miles on the turf, post time 6:07pm EDT
The Diana Stakes was not named after a horse, or after a prominent horseperson. Instead, it was named after a Roman hunt goddess who had an ability that any horseplayer would envy: the power to talk to and even control animals. The race has always been run at nine furlongs, though it was run on dirt from its inception in 1939 until 1973. Miss Grillo was its first two-time winner, in 1946 and 1947; despite her wins being in the dirt days, she is currently the namesake of a turf stakes for sophomore fillies at Belmont. Since her, the winners' list reads like a who's who of stakes namesakes in New York: Busanda (1952), Tempted (1959-1960), Shuvee (1970-1971), Waya (1978), Just a Game II (1980), De La Rose (1981), Wild Applause (1984), and Wonder Again (2004). Gamely, a Grade I stakes namesake at Santa Anita, also won the Diana in 1969.
Wonder Again gallops off with the 2004 Diana Stakes.
This year, just seven runners line up for their shot at the lion's share of a $500,000 purse. Between KITTEN'S QUEEN, MY MISS SOPHIA, and then TEPIN on the stretch-out, there should also be a decent amount of pace for classy closers to rally into. This field contains a pair of very nice closers; we look to LADY LARA first. LADY LARA has been fourth behind TEPIN in her last two starts, but both of those have come at a mile. TEPIN has done her best work at a flat mile. Both her nine-furlong record (2-0-0-0) and her breeding (by Bernstein out of the Stravinsky mare Life Happened -- making her half to Vyjack) suggest her better game may be shorter. LADY LARA, on the other hand, stands to improve on the stretch back out to nine furlongs. She has only tried that distance once -- but, in that one attempt, she finished third beaten just half a length in an English Group III against males. Both horses who finished ahead of her returned to win again: Custom Cut won a Group II at Newmarket next out, and Trade Storm won the Woodbine Mile (GI - CAN). That sort of class suggests she is worth another shot at nine panels. STEPHANIE'S KITTEN used her mulligan last out when she finished fourth in the New York Stakes (GII). However, her records both at the Spa (4-1-1-1) and at the distance (5-2-1-1) make her worth considering here, especially since stablemate (and potential rabbit) KITTEN'S QUEEN should not get the easy sort of dance she got on the front end in the New York. STEPHANIE'S KITTEN showed last year in the Diana that she did not have to be that far off the pace to run well, and finished second beaten just a neck by an incredibly in-form Somali Lemonade. She does lose rider John Velazquez, but new rider Irad Ortiz could end up working out well for her: he wins at 22% with trainer Chad Brown, and 20% on the grass. Velazquez defects to HARD NOT TO LIKE, last-out winner of the Gamely (GI) at Santa Anita. Fanticola, who she beat by a neck in the Gamely, turned around in the Royal Heroine (GII) to win by a neck, holding off Queen of the Sand. Though the west coast types are likely even weaker than the east coast filly and mare turf division (which it itself less than impressive, save the ailing Lady Eli...), HARD NOT TO LIKE has done most of her racing out east, and been able to show form against horses the calibre of who she faces in the Diana. Her best game may well be a mile and a sixteenth, but did win the Gamely at the same 1 1/8 mile distance as the Diana. The field should suit her off-pace style, and she has won a few races already with John Velazquez aboard.
#7 LADY LARA (10/1)
#2 STEPHANIE'S KITTEN (7/2)
#4 HARD NOT TO LIKE (5/1)
Longshot: As the old adage goes, if you missed the wedding, don't go to the funeral. This space's invite to the wedding of WALTZING MATILDA got lost in the mail. She will not be 22/1 in this field of seven, and the cutback from a mile and a quarter to a mile and an eighth will not do her any favours. Instead, watch the tote, and possibly consider a runner who remains relatively unexposed on turf: #6 MY MISS SOPHIA (5/2). Her entry in a grass allowance at Belmont on June 5 almost seemed like a desperation move: she has some class, we do not know what else to do with her, let's try her here. She responded by getting to the front and winning by four and a half easy lengths. Though she has done well on the lead, she also showed in her maiden win last year that she can come from a bit off the pace as well -- giving her a bit more appeal than rabbit type KITTEN'S QUEEN. That win came at this distance, and MY MISS SOPHIA also has a sharp five-furlong move leading into this race. The 5/2 morning line (she was selected as a "long shot" before the morning line was published) is short, and this space prefers LADY LARA, STEPHANIE'S KITTEN, and even HARD NOT TO LIKE significantly more. However, she still remains unproven on turf against this class of company, and has enough back class and pace versatility to be worth considering if the more grass-proven horses end up taking all the money.
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