For many horseplayers, the official first day of summer was this week.  The west coast kicked off the Del Mar meet, and out east the crown jewel Saratoga meet…

For many horseplayers, the official first day of summer was this week. The west coast kicked off the Del Mar meet, and out east the crown jewel Saratoga meet was unveiled. It was a tough choice to pick a signature race for this weekend, but I bowed to the graded stakes pressure and selected the $500,000 G1 Diana Stakes at Saratoga. The Diana stakes offers the largest purse and is the only G1 contest around. With apologies to the great Arrogate, his race at Del Mar in the San Diego Handicap is a G2 for a mere $250,000 purse.

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The Diana Stakes will be run at 1-1/8 miles around 2 turns over Saratoga’s turf course. In the first week of a meet, track bias information is not available, but according to my notes from last year’s meet, deep closers fared best in the 2 turn turf races. I will keep that tendency in mind when handicapping this race. Last year’s post position statistics showed a fair distribution among the post positions in the races.

The Diana has drawn a field of 6 for this event. Perennial turf training champion Chad Brown will saddle 2 entrants, including 4/5 morning line favorite Lady Eli. In 11 lifetime starts, Lady Eli has 8 wins and 3 seconds with a bankroll of over $2.4 million. Beating this 5yr old will be a tough task as she has shown the ability to win from close up or off the pace. She has also been the favorite in her last 9 races, 8 of them being graded stakes. She has been off since May 27th but her workout pattern is spot on, with a bullet turf workout followed by a modest 4f dirt work. The same pattern she posted before her G1 Gamely victory. Irad Ortiz Jr. will be in the saddle.

Chad Brown’s other entrant is the 3-1 morning line second choice Antonoe, with Javier Castellano up. Antonoe is a deep closer type who came over from France and has 2 wins in 2 tries on U.S. soil including the $700,000 G1 Just A Game Stakes at Belmont. After 3 straight sub par efforts in France as a 3yr old and a trip across the pond, Antonoe looks like she favors the going on the American turf.

There are no need-the-lead types here but there is some early foot from #5 My Impression, who has raced up front in her last 2 starts as a 4yr old. This newly found speed may not be best suited to this race. I don’t see her getting loose on the lead or holding off the classy stalkers and closers like Lady Eli, #6 Dickinson, or Antonoe.

This race should set up with a moderate pace at best, with a battle for who will sit just off the pace in perfect stalking position. Lady Eli looks as sharp as can be, but after giving an ice cold trifecta last week that paid in the single digits, I have to try and beat the favorite this week.

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The horse I landed on was not far from the favorite. #2, Antonoe, ran an impressive race in winning the Just A Game stakes at Belmont. She broke last behind a moderate pace, made a move to go wide on the final turn, but then broke back to the rail before sweeping past the field which included Dickinson, the 9/2 morning line 3rd choice in the Diana. Dickinson had a perfect rail run in the Just a Game but couldn’t get past the pacesetter and was no match for Antonoe. Antonoe covered more ground than all but one horse in that victory and still had something left after being steered in two different directions. While the speed figure for the race was a couple of ticks slow, this closer was at the mercy of her outside post and slow pace in front of her. Since that race, Antonoe also posted the exact same workout times on the exact same days as Lady Eli. They both ran a bullet on the turf on July 9th and a 48.8 4f on July 16th.

Lady Eli is the class of the race and is sure to be heavily bet. But I must avoid the short price and go to Chad Brown’s other horse, Antonoe for the win. I will back it up with a Lady Eli – Antonoe exacta.