SARATOGA SPRINGS — A busy weekend of turf stakes at Saratoga Race Course means a busy weekend for trainer Chad Brown.
The Brown-trained winners of the last two Eclipse Awards for Turf Female, Uni and Sistercharlie, will be on display, and neither of them is even the morning-line favorite in her respective race.
The Grade I Diana, typically held the first weekend of the meet, will be run on Sunday, as Sistercharlie attempts to become the first horse since the race was inaugurated in 1939 to win it three years in a row.
But first up is the Grade I Fourstardave on Saturday, which has drawn a field of nine, four of which are coming out of the Brown barn.
Brown’s Uni will be among two fillies taking on males in the Fourstardave, and the other is the Mark Casse-trained Got Stormy, who broke a course record in winning the one-mile Fourstardave last year, but is seeking her first win after four starts in 2020.
Uni will be joined by stablemates Raging Bull, the 5-2 favorite, Valid Point and Without Parole. Raging Bull was second to Got Stormy in the Fourstardave last year, and Uni, Got Stormy and Without Parole went 1-2-3, respectively, in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.
“I’m hoping the turf is firm for my four horses,” Brown said. “Hopefully they can all get clean trips and have an equal chance to win the race.”
Uni’s only start of 2020 was a third to stablemate Newspaperofrecord in the Grade I Just A Game at Belmont Park on June 27.
“She just had her best breeze of the year last week and we weren’t completely sure about this race,” co-owner Bradley Weisbord told the New York Racing Association. “We were 50-50 between the Fourstardave and the Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill, but the breeze is what gave Chad the confidence to run her, so she’s sitting on go.”
The late-running Raging Bull has run twice this season, winning the Grade I Shoemaker Mile and finishing third by a neck to 2019 Preakness winner War of Will in the Grade I Maker’s Mark Mile.
Without Parole ran in both of those, finishing third and fourth, respectively.
Brown’s other horse in the Fourstardave, Valid Point, is by far the most lightly raced horse in the field, but is a Grade I winner, in the Secretariat at Arlington Park as a 3-year-old last year.
After finishing second to Uni in the Breeders’ Cup, Got Stormy closed out 2019 with a win in the Grade I Matriarch, but she hasn’t found the winner’s circle yet in 2020.
“She’s training well and she’s back to Saratoga, which is where she did her best running last year, so we’re hoping for the best,” Casse said. “We know she likes that course, we know that she likes firm turf. She’s got to come with her ‘A’ game. She’s the same horse, she looks great and trains great. She’s just been a little bit unlucky. She ran over some ‘good’ turf courses and she wants it to be really firm.”
The National Weather Service is calling for isolated thunderstorms and showers after 1 p.m. on Saturday.
On Sunday, Brown will also saddle his star Rushing Fall in the Diana, besides Sistercharlie.
He completed the Chad-fecta last year when Sistercharlie, Rushing Fall and stablemate Homerique finished 1-2-3, respectively, in the Diana.
But 3-2 favorite Rushing Fall is the one to beat this year, off two sharp wins in the Beaugay at Belmont in June and the Grade I Jenny Wiley at Keeneland in July.
She is 10-2-0 from 13 career starts and has five Grade I victories to her credit. For those scoring at home, the Irish-bred Sistercharlie has won seven Grade I’s since she came over from Europe in 2017.
The other repeat winners of the Diana are Forever Together (2008-09), Glowing Honor (1988-89), Shuvee (1970-71), Tempted (1959-60) and Miss Grillo (1946-47).
“That [three straight] would be an amazing accomplishment,” Brown said.
“They both seem to be training very well and coming into the race the right way. There are some nice horses in the race, so it looks like another great edition of the Diana,” Brown said.
One of the most interesting challengers is Starship Jubilee, a former claimer who has won 18 of 36 lifetime starts and is undefeated in four races in 2020, most recently the Grade II Ballston Spa at Saratoga by a neck over Call Me Love, who is back for the Diana. Sistercharlie was third in that race off an 8 1/2-month layoff.
NO FANS AT DERBY
In light of Kentucky in general and Louisville in particular garnering “red zone” status for a recent spate of COVID-19 positive test results, Churchill Downs Incorporated will run the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby without fans.
The track had been preparing for 40% capacity in the grandstand — about 23,000 people — but bowed to current pandemic trends in Kentucky, with the support of Gov. Andy Beshear.
“Churchill Downs has worked diligently over the last several months to plan a safe Derby with a limited number of spectators in attendance,” CDI said in a release. “We were confident in that plan, but dedicated to remaining flexible using the best and most reliable information available. With the current significant increases in COVID-19 cases in Louisville as well as across the region, we needed to again revisit our planning. We have made the difficult decision to hold this year’s Kentucky Derby on September 5 without fans. Churchill Downs and all of our team members feel strongly that it is our collective responsibility as citizens of Louisville to do all we responsibly can to protect the health, safety and security of our community in these challenging times and believe that running the Derby without spectators is the best way to do that. We deeply regret the disappointment this will bring to our loyal fans.”
The release included a statement from Beshear: “The virus is still aggressively spreading in Kentucky, and the White House has announced that Jefferson County and the City of Louisville are in a ‘red zone’ based on increases in cases. This week alone the county had more than 2,300 new cases. I applaud Churchill Downs for continuing to monitor the virus and for making the right and responsible decision. I am asking all Kentuckians to take action to stop the spread of the virus so we can get back to the many traditions we enjoy, like the Kentucky Derby.”
The decision to bar fans includes all live racing during Derby Week.
The 6-year-old mare First Appeal was euthanized after being vanned off with an injury to her right front leg during the running of Thursday’s third race, on the inner turf course.
It was the second equine racing death of the meet, after Lady C was pulled up in the third race on Sunday with a left hind injury, vanned off and euthanized.
LATE FIRST POST
Friday’s post times were pushed back an hour due to an issue with AmTote, NYRA’s tote system provider.
The first post was scheduled for 1:10, but went off at 2:10.
The last race on the nine-race card went off at 6:46.
OLD FRIENDS OPEN HOUSE
Old Friends at Cabin Creek in Greenfield Center will host an open house and adoption event from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday that will include two equine ambassadors from the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s herd.
Visitors will get a chance to learn about the work of aftercare organizations and meet the retirees, including the TRF’s Uptown Joe and Bold Mon.
The Old Friends crew includes Commentator, Zippy Chippy, Like Now and many others.