Ye of little faith.
Trainer Michael Matz was ready to retire 5-year-old mare Somali Lemonade after a second-place finish in January’s Grade III Marshua’s River at Gulfstream Park, but he was talked out of it. After giving her a bit of a break, she’s shown some of the best form of her career. She continued to show it Saturday by winning the Grade I Diana at Saratoga Race Course.
“My sister-in-law, Cina Forgason, she said, ‘Well, it’s the only horse I have in the stable. She ran good. Is there any reason we should not run her?’ ” Matz said. “I said, ‘No, she’s sound and she’s good. But let’s give her a little rest now.’ ”
Since her rest, she is 3-0-1 from four starts, the only loss being in the Grade I Just A Game at Belmont by 11⁄4 lengths. Also since her return, she has set the pace in every race.
Until the Diana.
Discreet Marq and favored Alterite showed the field the way around the inner turf for much of the 11⁄8 miles of the Diana. Jockey Luis Saez kept Somali Lemonade behind the leaders and within striking distance. Coming into the stretch, he asked her for more, and she gave it.
“When we came to the three-eighths [pole], I felt like I had so much horse,” Saez said. “When I came into the clear, she responded to me.”
Somali Lemonade came into the stretch on the outside, with Stephanie’s Kitten also rallying into the stretch behind her. Saez had to hold off Stephanie’s Kitten through the last sixteenth, winning by a neck.
Another neck back, Discreet Marq finished third. A late run by Abaco earned fourth, while Alterite faded to eighth.
“I was disappointed she tired like she did,” trainer Chad Brown said about Alterite. “We were a little cautious about her maybe being a little short for this race, but I thought it was worth a shot.”
The winner paid $24.60, $11.00 and $7.40. Stephanie’s Kitten returned $6.60 and $4.60, while Discreet Marq paid $6.50 to show.
Somali Lemonade broke well, but Saez didn’t feel the need to grab the lead with Alterite, Discreet Marq and Tannery all getting out well, as well, to his outside.
“[Matz] told me it depends how she broke from the gate,” Saez said. “She broke in front, but I had speed on my outside and I let her go, because I didn’t want to go head-to-head with another speed.”
The Diana was the first of 15 flat Grade I stakes to be contested this summer at Saratoga. It gave Somali Lemonade her sixth victory of her 22-race career, and it gave Matz his first win of the meet with the first horse he saddled at the meet.
“It’s unbelievable for me, anytime you win a Grade I race,” Matz said. “But especially for this filly, to be a
5-year-old and do what she’s done this year. It just goes to show you that the people who are taking care of her back at the barn are doing the right thing.”
Running her back in the Grade I Beverly D. at Arlington Park on Aug. 16 remains an option, but Matz couldn’t commit to running her back so soon, as he had been letting her rest a bit between races this year.
“I don’t know, that might be a little quick to come back,” Matz said. “But, like I say, you never know, the way she’s going. So who knows? We’ll see how she comes out in the next couple days.”
The Beverly D. is another sixteenth longer than the Diana, but the way Somali Lemonade finished seemed to tell Saez she had more in the tank.
“She’s fine. When she crossed the wire, she kept running like nothing happened,” Saez said. “That’s how it felt. She’s doing good.”