SARATOGA SPRINGS — The pawn moved to the front of the action.
The bishop and rook took their striking positions.
Then the queen cleared the chessboard.
The Grade I Diana was set up for another victory for trainer Chad Brown, with four of the six horses in the field, two of them multiple Grade I winners and another a multiple graded stakes winner.
With all those pieces, he was bound to win, and did so with an endgame that sent the reigning filly and mare turf champion, Sistercharlie, to the Saratoga Race Course winner’s circle with jockey John Velazquez, despite not having raced in over eight months.
She is the eighth horse to win two Dianas and seventh to win two in a row since the race was first run in 1939, and gave Brown his fourth straight Diana and fifth in the last nine years. Sistercharlie did it by passing Rushing Fall near the sixteenth pole to win by 1 3/4 lengths, as Homerique rallied for third to complete the Chad-fecta.
“Another great performance from a great mare,” Brown told the New York Racing Association. “She showed why she’s the best.
“[Owner] Peter [Brant] made the decision to come back and race her another year. He’s a great sportsman and he loves seeing this horse run. We were going to start her campaign a little earlier in the year, and she got sick on us. We had to wait, and he was very patient. She just hit all her works right leading up to this race.”
Brant also owns Homerique, who was a neck behind Rushing Fall in third, and the early pacesetter.
It took a champion like Sistercharlie, whose 2018 Eclipse Award-winning campaign included the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf and two other Grade I wins, to stop Rushing Fall’s four-race winning streak that covered two Grade I’s this year, the Jenny Wiley and Just A Game.
Brant said he would’ve preferred to keep Sistercharlie and Homerique separated on the race schedule, but there aren’t many options this time of year.
“Of course you do, but can I place her somewhere else? Where?” he said. “There’s just no other place.
“You get one like that [Sistercharlie] in a lifetime, and we’re fortunate to be associated with her.”
Brown’s fourth entry, Thais (also owned by Brant), rocketed to the lead and dragged Mitchell Road with her as they separated themselves by as many as eight lengths from the rest of the field in the early going.
Thais, who went off at odds of 38-1, had won just one allowance race in eight North American starts since coming to the U.S. from France in 2017. It was clear that the Diana would be No. 9.
The stretch run was left to the three stars, and although Rushing Fall and Homerique ran what may have been winning Dianas in some years, Sistercharlie was just too good.
“Chad told me that she was ready, and you have to give it to Chad,” Velazquez said. “He did a great job with her. He passed the race at Belmont and said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll get her ready for the Diana.’ It worked out perfect. She came back very well and they did a great job with her. She was there for me.”
“I was very comfortable where all my horses were on the backside,” Brown said. “It set up as I expected with these three horses coming down the lane, particularly Sistercharlie more than likely running at Rushing Fall at the wire. It’s unfortunate one had to lose — that any of the three had to lose. “
GRADE III SANFORD
By Your Side stretched out a little in distance, and stretched out a little in margin of victory.
Trainer Eddie Kenneally believes the son of Constitution can continue that trend.
Ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., By Your Side rolled to a three-length victory over Tomato Bill in the six-furlong Grade III Sanford to improve to 2-for-2 in his young career.
Kenneally said he has seen enough signs from his colt that he believes his future is more than just sprinting.
“He has a very efficient, long stride, and his pedigree says that he wants to go longer,” Kenneally said. “The way he relaxed will help the horse go longer as well.”
“He was acting like a professional,” Ortiz said. “He relaxed so well, and when I asked him to go, he just turned [it] on.”
Midnight Bisou may be the clear front-runner in the older filly and mare dirt division, but Elate isn’t going away, either.
She backed up her nice win in the Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs with an even more impressive 4 1/2-length victory in the Grade II Delaware Handicap at Delaware Park.
It took 2018 champion 2-year-old male Game Winner four tries, but he finally found it back to the winner’s circle for the first time since the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November.
Then again, it wasn’t much more than a paid public workout, as he romped over three rivals at odds of 1-20 in the Los Alamitos Derby.
Also in the 3-year-old male division, Mr. Money has carved out an interesting run on the periphery of the Triple Crown trail. After winning the Pat Day Mile at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day, he has won the Matt Winn at Churchill and, on Saturday, the Grade III Indiana Derby at Indiana Grand, both at a mile and a sixteenth..
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