Summer is here: the Spa is opening.
Picks and Ponderings turns it attention this week to the pair of graded stakes on Saturday at the Spa. One, the Grade 3 Sanford, drew a field of eight juvenile colts to go six furlongs on the dirt. The other, the first Grade 1 of the meet, is the Diana: featuring seven older turf mares going nine furlongs on the grass.
Selections for the Diana are for turf only. Morning line odds were not available at original publish time.
Saratoga Race Course: Saturday, July 21
Race 9: Sanford Stakes (G3), two-year-olds, six furlongs on the dirt, post time 5:40pm EDT
This year marks the 103rd edition of the Sanford Stakes. Inaugurated in 1913 at its current six-furlong distance, it took its name 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.
Secretariat bursts through horses and finds triumph in the 1972 Sanford Stakes.
None of the eight horses in the Sanford Stakes have tried six furlongs yet. They're all winners -- a welcome delight in an early-season two-year-old stakes -- but no one has gone longer than five and a half. On paper, this race has a lot of speed: KNICKS GO, WHISKEY ECHO, BANO SOLO, and STRIKE SILVER all led at every call of their maiden win, and CHASE GREATENESS was prominent the entire way, leading at every call but the stretch call, at which he was second a head behind. It suggests a race who can rate and rally will be well set -- putting it well in line with recent runnings of the Sanford.
That should bode well for SOMBEYAY. He has two starts under him already, making him as experienced as anyone. He won his debut as easily as a graded stakes prospect should win a late-spring Gulfstream maiden, and showed toughness to overcome being bumped around at the start. He overcame another bad start next-out in the Tremont Stakes at Belmont, stumbling at the break and rallying to be beaten just three quarters of a length. With a rail draw, it's good that SOMBEYAY has experience handling some early difficulty, just in case. And, with all the speed in the race, his late run could carry this son of Into Mischief to victory.
The other Pletcher in the race, LEXITONIAN, could also get a very good run in this year's Sanford. The son of Speightstown has run just once, but it was a rate-and-rally victory at Belmont. Rider John Velazquez, a proven Pletcher partner, had the call in that June 27 win and will take the leg up again. The inside draw doesn't raise any worry -- after all, LEXITONIAN drew the rail on debut, and still managed to rally and get the job done. He's a slight second choice here because his stablemate has another race worth of seasoning, but he completes an imposing one-two punch for the Pletcher barn.
BANO SOLO looks the best of the speed contingent. The Steve Asmussen trainee won on debut at Churchill, weathering some contention early, drawing off, and crossing the wire easily clear. Ricardo Santana returns to the irons; though he has not yet established himself as a mainstay at the Spa, he does get top mounts for Asmussen and he started last year's Saratoga meet strongly. There is a good chance BANO SOLO did not show everything he had in his debut; if that's the case, he may just outclass the rest of the speed in the Sanford.
#7 BANO SOLO
Longshot: #6 CHASE GREATNESS has yet to win on a fast track; his maiden victory came in race at Churchill, originally carded for the grass, that was washed out to a sloppy main track. But, what he showed that day revealed a skill that may serve him well in the Sanford: he is game enough to prevail in a protracted pace battle. With all the early speed that signed on for the Sanford, that will help CHASE GREATNESS. Of course, he faces a tougher test here: seven other winners, all of whom got their diplomas against foes originally intended to break their maidens on dirt. But, with better gate manners second-out than first-out? If he can run as well here as he did in his off-turf maiden score, CHASE GREATNESS can prove himself here at a price.
Race 10: Diana Stakes (G1), three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, one and one eighth miles on the turf, post time 6:18pm EDT
The Diana Stakes, the first Grade 1 of the summer at the Spa, will be run for the 80th time on Saturday. It was not named after a horse, or after a prominent horseperson. Instead, it was named after a Roman hunt goddess who had an ability 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.
Zagora kicks clear to win the 2011 Diana Stakes, giving trainer Chad Brown his first ever Grade 1 win. He has won the Diana twice more: with Dacita in 2016 and Lady Eli in 2017.
As this is a Grade 1 turf race in New York, trainer Chad Brown has a strong contingent heading to post: three of the seven runners hail from his barn.
As this is a Grade 1 turf race in New York, if you can beat who Chad Brown has to offer, you'll get paid.
That's the difficult part, as Brown has three strong horses. However, there's a horse from another barn who is just as good as any Brown has to offer: PROCTOR'S LEDGE. Sure, PROCTOR'S LEDGE has some tables to turn on A RAVING BEAUTY in this race, as she finished second beaten three quarters of a length behind that foe in the Just a Game (G1) last month. But, the daughter of Ghostzapper stands to step forward at a mile and an eighth, a distance over which she has two wins and two placings in five tries. Her sole off-the-board finish at the distance came in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) last fall -- the end of a long campaign, over a course over which she has never shown her best. On the other hand, she likes the Spa: her two starts at Saratoga last year both resulted in graded stakes victories. With affinity for the course and distance, as well as a smart turn of foot, PROCTOR'S LEDGE looks like she'll be an overlay on Saturday.
Of course, the Chad Brown triumvirate of A RAVING BEAUTY, SISTERCHARLIE, and NEW MONEY HONEY deserves a long look. Among them, A RAVING BEAUTY looks marginally best. She gets Brown's "A" rider and her regular one, Irad Ortiz. She has won both her American starts, both at Belmont: the mile and a sixteenth Beaugay (G3) and the one-mile Just a Game. With tactical speed, she should be able to sit in close range of the likes of HAWKSMOOR and anyone who goes with her, possibly ULTRA BRAT or NEW MONEY HONEY. A RAVING BEAUTY should be able to get the distance; in two tries at about a mile and an eighth, both in listed stakes in Germany, she won once and was third beaten half a length in her other try. Could she end up being PROCTOR'S LEDGE at a mile and an eighth? It wouldn't be a surprise, and it makes sense to cover both on multi-race tickets. But, for a win bet? It looks a close decision through these eyes, and A RAVING BEAUTY will likely go off the chalk.
SISTERCHARLIE also merits a look. Though NEW MONEY HONEY got the best of her in their Belmont Oaks matchup last year, SISTERCHARLIE has returned strongly at four, trading blows with older and more seasoned stablemate Fourstar Crook. SISTERCHARLIE took the mile and a sixteenth Jenny Wiley (G1); Fourstar Crook took the mile and a quarter New York (G2). Now SISTERCHARLIE cuts back in distance. Whether that's a positive or a neutral move is to be determined, as SISTERCHARLIE is lightly raced and so consistent in the races she has run. But, the mile and an eighth of the Diana should be well within her capabilities, and she has taken her form to enough to enough tracks that the move to Saratoga doesn't worry this space. The question is whether SISTERCHARLIE will get enough pace to run everyone down -- but no matter what, she will be running with spirit late.
The one Brown on whom this space is less keen is NEW MONEY HONEY. Her allowance return at Belmont wasn't a disaster -- she won, after all -- and it would be no surprise if they weren't using everything that day. But, she was facing such softer company compared to this field, and she is not yet proven against older stakes horses the way PROCTOR'S LEDGE and SISTERCHARLIE are. She has to prove herself.
#2 PROCTOR'S LEDGE
#6 A RAVING BEAUTY
Longshot: We alluded to the pace earlier. NEW MONEY HONEY and ULTRA BRAT might go, but #7 HAWKSMOOR has shown the most penchant to make the running. Despite drawing the outside gate, it's just a field of seven, and she has been able to make the running in top-level company from outside gates before. The daughter of Azamour does not need to take her course with her, and though she does not yet have a win at the distance, she has hit the board twice in three tries. Though that off-the-board finish did come last-out, HAWKSMOOR has been freshened since and she runs well fresh. These factors make her an appealing longer shot.
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