Dacita wins Diana by a nose

Trainer Chad Brown only has two eyes, so it was impossible to keep track of all of his horses in the
Dacita and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. win the 78th running of The Diana in a photo finish Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.
Dacita and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. win the 78th running of The Diana in a photo finish Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.

Trainer Chad Brown only has two eyes, so it was impossible to keep track of all of his horses in the Grade I Diana at Saratoga Race Course.

All he really needed was for one of his horses to get a good look at the finish line, though.

The mare with the good eyes — and good legs, good lungs and terrific rider — wound up being Dacita, who came from last place to chase down Recepta and nail her at the wire for a tight photo-finish victory by a nose.

Brown, whose barn is loaded with grass horses, saddled four of the 10 fillies and mares in the field, and nearly pulled off a turf stakes exacta for the second day in a row, as long-shot Rainha Da Bateria was only a head behind Recepta.

Brown’s other two horses, Mrs McDougal and Wekeela, finished seventh and last, respectively.

“Obviously, I’ll be watching this race several times over again,” Brown said. “I was able to see some of every one throughout the race. Two of them ran real well, and the other two were disappointing.

“I need to go back to the drawing board with those other horses and figure out what happened, because I know they’re top-class horses as well. So we’ll regroup. Thank God one of them won. It was Dacita’s day today.”

This was not only Brown’s second Diana win, it echoed back to the first Grade I victory of his career as a head trainer.

He won with Zagora in 2011, followed by a third-place finish by Zagora in 2012, a second by a head with Dream Peace in 2013, a second by a neck with Stephanie’s Kitten in 2014, and a third with Kitten’s Queen last year.

“There’s a lot of history in this race,” he said. “It was my first Grade I ever, and since then I’ve had some close calls and didn’t get it done. So I’ve been on both ends of those photos.”

This photo was developed through a sharp ride from Irad Ortiz Jr., who laid back in last as the frontrunners popped a fast first quarter-mile of the mile-and-an-eighth race.

Ortiz guided Dacita off the rail on the far turn and gave her all the room she needed six paths wide as they got in the stretch.

Recepta, ridden by John Velazquez, looked like a winner two strides from the wire, but Dacita’s acceleration and Ortiz’s timing were impeccable.

“I got the perfect trip while saving ground,” Ortiz said. “She came from last and came running at the end.”

“I know they tried to slow it down some, but it really set the tone for the race that someone from behind, or in mid-pack at worst, was probably going to have the best run,” Brown said.

Dacita, who beat champion Tepin by a head in the Ballston Spa at Saratoga last year, could run back in three weeks in the Beverly D. at Arlington Park in Chicago, Brown said.

Also on the card, Bitumen shook off a face-full of dirt to close resolutely in the stretch and win the Grade III Sanford for 2-year-olds.

Despite a short field of five colts, Bitumen and jockey Javier Castellano found themselves behind a clump of three horses, Zartera, Random Walk and Bay Numbers, in the early stages of the race.

Bitumen started to gain ground midway through the turn and used an outside path to close down the stretch and win by 13⁄4 lengths as the 4-5 favorite for owner Winchell Thoroughbreds and trainer Eddie Kenneally.

“He got a great education today, because he was in behind and took so much dirt,” Kenneally said. “He overcame that, and that goes to show how much class he has.”

“He was very professional the way he did it, handling the dirt very well — three horses up on the lead with a lot of kickback, it hit him for the first time in the face,” said Castellano, his own face and neck caked with dirt. “You kind of anticipate he wouldn’t like it much, but he went through it.”

Bitumen was coming off a 63⁄4-length victory in his first career start at Churchill Downs on June 30.

“Very professional,” Castellano said. “He didn’t break too sharp out of the gate. I didn’t want to rush up, I just wanted to do the right thing with the horse, and he showed me a lot of class. It worked out just perfect, three horses went into a speed duel, I took my time and when I asked, he responded very well.”

Random Walk and jockey Jose Ortiz finished second and survived an objection lodged by Ortiz’s brother, Irad, who was on Zartera and dueled in close quarters with Random Walk on the inside, while Bitumen was closing down the middle of the track.

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