In what was supposed to be a showdown between Stephanie’s Kitten and Centre Court, Laughing held on in a front-running effort to win the Grade I $600,000 Diana at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday.
With the scratch of Dayatthespa, one of a trio of Chad Brown entries in the race, Laughing was left as the only speed in the race. She showed the field the short way around the 11⁄8 miles on the inner turf and held off Dream Peace by a head for the win.
“She’s a pretty good filly,” trainer Alan Goldberg said. “She had the winter off, she came back well. She ran a pretty good race last time, first time out of the box, and she came out of the race just great. The boss said, ‘Let’s take a shot,’ and we did.”
The race last time, which gave the boss — owner Richard Santulli — some extra confidence, was the Grade II Eatontown Handicap at Monmouth on June 13. It was the first race back since Oct. 27 for the Irish-bred 5-year-old, who won that one by three-quarters of a length over the scratched Dayatthespa.
“Even if the other filly [Dayatthespa] was in, I thought we’d sit right off of her, because she looks like she really wants to fly,” Goldberg said. “As it turns out, it was better this way, because we won.”
Favorite Centre Court made a bid at the top of the stretch, but faded to last in the five-horse field.
Even though she has early speed, Laughing was not pressured much and was allowed to run fractions of 24.24, 49.19 and 1:12.53 through the first three-quarters of a mile. She finished in 1:47.24, returning $15.80, $6.70 and $3.50.
Outside of Center Court, Samitar tried a stretch rally, but had to settle for fourth when jockey Javier Castellano could not induce more kick late. Outside of her came Stephanie’s Kitten, who managed to finish third, a half-length back of Dream Peace, after running the first mile behind the rest of the field.
Dream Peace and Samitar are both trained by Brown, a Mechanicville native.
“Perfect trip,” said Dream Peace jockey Joel Rosario. “I thought I was going to get there, but the horse in front kept going. My horse ran good.”
Jose Lezcano got a late burst of speed from Laughing.
“The trainer said, ‘Break good, let her do her thing, and go from there,’ ” he said. “When I asked her at the quarter pole, she took off again and gave me enough to win the race.”
Centre Court looked primed to take possession of the lead entering the stretch, coming alongside Laughing before fading to last.
“We had a good trip,” Centre Court jockey Julien Leparoux said. “I had her in a spot where she likes, she was just flat. She didn’t really kick for me at the end. That’s it. She was empty at the end.”
“She had a great trip, a great trip. Something has gone amiss,” said George Arnold, trainer of Centre Court. “This isn’t the same horse that I’ve had; I’m missing something, and it’s my job to find it. [Leparoux] said she went to that filly, pretty much what we saw, and then couldn’t get by her, and that was it.”
The considerations for Laughing’s next start include a $250,000 Grade II race back here next month, or a Grade I $600,000 race at Belmont a month later.
“It’s a little too early, but maybe we’ll come back for the Ballston Spa at a mile and a sixteenth [Aug. 24],” Goldberg said, “or maybe we’ll wait for a mile and a quarter at Belmont, a Grade I [Flower Bowl
Invitational on Sept. 28].”