2016 Diana Stakes and Sanford Stakes Preview

“As surely as other pilgrims may seek to visit Jerusalem, every racing fan should aspire to see Saratoga.” — Andrew Beyer

Picks & Ponderings won’t be making a physical appearance at Saratoga this week (though we did enjoy our jaunt to Indiana Grand).  What P&P will do is realize how so many others want to visit Saratoga, want to wake up to morning works on the Oklahoma track, want to grab that pristine spot of picnic table glory…by handicapping the stakes of the Saratoga meet’s first Saturday and instilling some hopefully profitable opinions.  Two graded features take the spotlight on the first Saturday of the Saratoga summer meet – the G3 Sanford for juveniles and the G1 Diana for elder females on the turf.

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 provide taped coverage of 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.  All races are scheduled for Saturday July 23rd. Authors of each preview are denoted by initials at the end: PM for Paul Mazur, and NN for Nicolle Neulist.

Saratoga Race Course — Race 3 — G3 Sanford Stakes — Six Furlongs on Dirt — post time 2:07 pm ET


This year marks the 102nd time that the Sanford Stakes will be run.  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.

Eventual Triple Crown winner Secretariat prevails in the 1972 Sanford Stakes.

This year, only five horses passed the entry box to vie for a share of the $150,000 purse.  The field may be short, but there is a lot of early speed, as four of the five in the field either graduated going wire-to-wire, or very close to it.  The one who did it from just off the pace is BRONSON, and that’s who this space will look to here.  Though he looked rather green, particularly early in his debut, he had more than enough in the tank to wear down the leader and draw off in hand.  BRONSON also comes out for connections who know how to win a Sanford…or two…or six: trainer Todd Pletcher and rider John Velazquez.  He has room to improve, he can pass horses, and his people so often come to this race loaded — BRONSON looks well-meant and well-set.

BITUMEN posted a sharp maiden victory at Churchill on June 30.  There was a lot to like: he broke from the rail, sent to the lead, survived a four-way pace battle through the turn (in which he was headed), and drew off to win in a romp.  With so much early speed in this race, the gameness and the talent he showed in that maiden win will serve him well.   Also noteworthy is that BITUMEN is the only horse in this field who has tried six furlongs yet.

This field is stratified: BRONSON and BITUMEN look squarely the ones to beat.  Among the rest, BAY NUMBERS gets the slight nod over RANDOM WALK and ZARTERA, though it is close.  RANDOM WALK and ZARTERA both gunned it and took the fields all the way around in their maiden win; between the two, RANDOM WALK did it more easily.  Both attract star Saratoga jockeys: Jose Ortiz on RANDOM WALK, and Irad Ortiz on ZARTERA.

But, BAY NUMBERS did something neither RANDOM WALK or ZARTERA did: showed he could survive a protracted speed duel.  In addition to that, BAY NUMBERS has a seasoning edge, as the only horse in the field who has started twice already before the Sanford.  Though he will have to take a significant step forward to win this, that seasoning edge may help him if the front end gets as contentious as it looks on paper.  Also, it is interesting that Paco Lopez turns up on BAY NUMBERS even though he also booted BRONSON home to his maiden victory.  Though that decision may be meaningless — as Velazquez, not Lopez, is Pletcher’s go-to guy at the Spa.  But, it merits a note.


#4 BRONSON (5/1)

#5 BITUMEN (8/5)

#3 BAY NUMBERS (10/1)

Longshot:  Sorry, the longshot writer is still stuck in traffic on the Tappan Zee bridge after that crane collapsed. –NN

Saratoga Race Course — Race 10 — G1 Diana Stakes — One and one-eighth miles on Mellon Turf — post time 6:18 pm ET

Many of the Grade Ones at Saratoga memorialize a person (Woodward, Travers, Vanderbilt) or a horse (Forego, Sword Dancer).  The Diana Stakes memorializes neither of them – instead named for the Roman goddess Diana.  Diana’s quality as a diety was that she could control animals and talk to animals.  Officially in Roman mythology she was the goddess of hunt.  Until 1973 the Diana Stakes was contested at nine furlongs – one full circuit – on the Saratoga dirt course.  In its dirt days, the winners included stakes namesakes such as Busanda (1952), Tempted (1959-60), Gamely (1969), and Shuvee (1970-71).  In its turf days, the Diana continued its impressive roll call, with Waya (1978), Just A Game (1980), Wild Applause (2004), and Wonder Again (2004) annexing this event.  Often used nowadays as a prep to the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf, Perfect Sting (2000) and Forever Together (2008) both won the Diana and the BC Filly & Mare Turf in the same year.  Forever Together (2008-09) is also one of the race’s two time winners.

Forever Together takes her first of two renewals of the Diana Handicap in 2008, reeling in a runaway leader.

The Diana carries a purse of a half million dollars, and a quick scan of the entries shows no Tepin – the division’s leader.  Don’t worry – she’s aiming to the G1 Fourstardave against males later in the meet.  Like the Just A Game on Belmont Stakes Day – this race sees the entry box fill with runners seeking a G1 without being scared off by the big one.  Seeing as this race is in New York, it’s a Brown-out.  Trainer Chad Brown has four in the box for the Diana, and we look to one of his trainees for the top choice.  DACITA had long been pegged as one who needs someone to do the dirty work on the front end, but she rallied off tepid splits (and took advantage of a bad trip by the favorite) to win the G2 New York at ten panels on the day before the Belmont Stakes.  DACITA has a win over the Saratoga lawn – last year’s G2 Ballston Spa.  Wide in the G1 Jenny Wiley (won by Tepin), she closed well to miss to a next-out runner three back at Gulfstream.  Irad Ortiz, Jr. has the assignment.  She gets pace and targets from ISABELLA SINGS on the far outside as well.  MISS TEMPLE CITY earned a Grade One against the boys at Keeneland when Tepin stayed against her own gender.  The male milers can be a muddled mix of meh, but MISS TEMPLE CITY proved she’s no slouch with a fourth in a G2 over at Royal Ascot.  A G3 at Ascot could suit her well, as would a G1 against her own gender.  So MISS TEMPLE CITY, purely on class, deserves a look.  As a pressing type she should get first run on the leaders.  She fired well first off the winter layoff to beat the boys, and her pattern has been one to need time between races.  With her unseen since Royal Ascot, that fits the pattern she has.  A new face in graded company is ONUS, whose best performance to date was at nine furlongs last fall at Laurel in the Commonwealth Oaks (nee Virginia Oaks).  Third start off the layoff is in play for ONUS who cleared the N3X allowance level two back and and was second in the Perfect Sting last time.  Saratoga’s Mellon turf is a mile around, like Laurel’s turf.  Her better Belmont race came over the inner turf as opposed to the Widener.  Given her run over these kinds of courses – not the tightly wrapped seven furlong ovals but not a wide sweeping Belmont course – she seems like a horse who should take to the Saratoga Springs course.  With her best run at nine furlongs, that’s another plus point.  With her going third off the layoff, that’s another plus point.


#6 DACITA (5/1)


#8 ONUS (15/1)

Longshot: Not often we get the chance to talk about a runner who was second in the G1 Gamely in this spot, but #4 WEKEELA (7/2) is the longshot and the one who got a silver medal in the Gamely.  West Coast G1s are usually a step behind the East Coast types, but she has a second to Tepin badge earned in the G1 Jenny Wiley.  WEKEELA might scare some bettors away given she was beaten at 4/5 in the Gamely, but she’s hit the board seven times in ten tries and fits at this level – a Junior Varsity (read: no Tepin) G1.  Javier Castellano takes the mount.  This is likely to be one of the secondary Chad Brown entrants in this field that could float up on the tote, given DACITA appears to be the primary one.  –PM

All videos courtesy of Youtube.


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