The official start of a horseplayer’s summer is this weekend as the iconic tracks on both coasts open for business. In the east, Saratoga will usher in the new season with the G1 $500,000 Diana for 3yr old and up fillies and mares. This 9 furlong affair will be run around 2 turns over Saratoga’s fabled grass course.
The opening days of a meet are always tricky from a handicapping standpoint as track biases and tendencies have yet to be uncovered. All we have are last year’s stats and Saratoga’s daily “track trends” from 2017 where it was common for it to be noted that the turf course played fairly.
Of the seven runners in the Diana, no one looks like they need to be on the engine, but a few look to be close to the front going into the first turn.
Trainer Chad Brown will saddle two of the horses I expect to be up close. New Money Honey made her seasonal bow last month where she stalked a dawdling pace over a turf course rated as “good” and won by the slimmest of margins. This was a tightener she definitely needed against an optional claiming field where she went off as a prohibitive $0.15-1 favorite.
Stablemate A Raving Beauty was up close in her last but against G1 company at Belmont in the Just A Game stakes. This performance was on the back of the same winning tactics in the G3 Beaugay.
Ultra Brat, with Joel Rosario aboard, is coming off of a 10 length victory in Pimlico’s G3 Galorette. She broke well and stalked a competitive pace before drawing off.
And then there is Hawksmoor. A prodigious stumble at the break relegated her to the back of the pack in the G1 Gamely. With the exception of that race, Hawksmoor had not been more than 2 lengths off of the lead at the first call since 2016. In the Gamely, she was too far back, finishing a well beaten 5th.
Proctor’s Ledge, trained by Brendan Walsh and ridden by Jose Ortiz, is the only horse in this field looking like she wants to settle mid-pack. She has been chasing graded stakes company exclusively for over a year with 3 wins in her last 7 starts.
Breaking from the rail, Sistercharlie will be guided by John Velazquez with the hope of saving all of the ground and having enough left for her usual explosion in the lane.
War Canoe will try to out-run her recent speed figures and prove that she belongs in this graded affair.
In a field lacking pure front runners, I see a competitive but sensible pace, with Ultra Brat inheriting the lead from New Money Honey. New Money Honey showed in her last how averse she was to leading as she was held tightly to sit 2nd to a 24 and 2 opening quarter against a much softer field.
Just behind these will be A Raving Beauty. She beat Proctor’s Ledge by ¾’s of a length in the Just A Game Stakes, but according to Trakus, she also covered 26 feet more than her rival, which is roughly another 3 lengths added distance. She will be tough to beat but we will have to try.