Chad Brown has them surrounded.
Well, at least for now, while the Grade I Diana still exists in the form of a page in today’s Saratoga Race Course program.
Based on entries, the Mechanicville native is scheduled to saddle three of the six fillies and mares in the race: Dream Peace on the rail, Samitar on the outside and Dayatthespa in the middle.
Depending on circumstances, though, “I’ll run anywhere from one and three horses,” Brown said on Thursday morning.
Each has her own strengths and weaknesses in the nine-furlong race on the inner turf, and everyone will have to deal with the obvious favorite, Stephanie’s Kitten, who counts two Grade I and two Grade II victories among her seven wins in 12 lifetime starts.
No matter how it shakes out, the Diana has been an important race in Brown’s career as a head trainer, representing his first Grade I victory, by Zagora in 2011 on his hometown track. She went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf and Eclipse Award in 2012.
“It’s a significant race,” Brown said. “It’s my first Grade I win, with Zagora, and a race my mentor
really loved. Bobby Frankel loved the Diana, it was one of his favorites, so any time I can participate in it, I’m just thrilled. And I’m lucky I have these clients who sent me these fillies to train. At least I’m in there with a chance.”
Frankel, the late Hall of Famer, won the Diana back-to-back with Starine in 2001 and Tates Creek in 2002.
Brown had two shots at the Diana last year, but Dream Peace was second and Zagora third to Winter Memories.
Based on turf condition, Dream Peace would be at a disadvantage because the dry weather has firmed up the grass courses.
Owned by Etreham Farm, she just missed by a half-length on a yielding course last year in finishing third behind Nahrain and Zagora in the Grade I Flower Bowl at Belmont Park.
She’s been third in three races since, most recently to Starformer and Lady of Shamrock in the mile-and-a-quarter New York on a firm course at Belmont Park on June 29.
“It will play a factor,” Brown said. “Dayatthespa and Samitar clearly prefer firm. The other filly prefers softer ground, which she’s unlikely to get this weekend.”
Dayatthespa, a daughter of City Zip, had a remarkable season for a New York-bred last year, winning five straight, including the Grade I QEII at Keeneland and the Riskaverse at Saratoga.
She also won at Saratoga as a 2-year-old, heading straight to the turf in her career debut and winning by four lengths.
Dayatthespa is also 2-for-2 at the Diana distance, in the QEII and Herecomesthebride.
If she runs today, she might be contesting the pace up front with long shot Laughing, who just beat her in the Eatontown at Monmouth Park by stalking Dayatthespa.
Samitar, another in a growing number of European horses sent to Brown by various clients, especially her owner, Martin Schwartz, won the Garden City at Belmont Park last year to give Brown another Grade I.
She started 2013 with a fourth to stablemate Pianist in the Gallorette before winning the listed Fairy Garden at Belmont on July 4.
“It’s a tough race,” Brown said. “I have three of the six in there, but let me tell you, the other three are good. It’s going to be no easy task to try to win this race. I need to look at the big picture and see what’s available for all of the three and determine what I want to do.
“I’ll watch the horses train up until the race, handicap the race a bit, talk to my clients and figure out what I’m doing with each horse.”
Stephanie’s Kitten and Centre Court have been showing up together in many of the same races since Centre Court won the Lake George at Saratoga last year. Samitar was third and Stephanie’s Kitten fourth.
Stephanie’s Kitten came back to beat Centre Court by a half-length in the Lake Placid as they stretched out another sixteenth of a mile to nine furlongs.
They were both beaten by Dayatthespa in the QEII.
Centre Court became a Grade I winner this year when she took the Jenny Wiley, beating Samitar in the process, then finished fourth to Stephanie’s Kitten in the one-mile Just A Game on a yielding course at Belmont.
“She’s coming off a couple of very good races,” trainer Wayne Catalano said of Stephanie’s Kitten. “We’re happy with the way she’s coming into the race. The [extra distance] doesn’t worry me with a couple of races under her belt.”
“I’m hoping it was the yielding ground,” trainer Rusty Arnold said of Centre Court’s Just A Game. “We’ll know this week. We’ve always had a question, but that’s what I think what it was. She had never run a bad race. She likes it here and ran well here last year. She has the same filly to beat as she did last year.”