Brown seeks fifth G1 Diana win with strong foursome
by Ryan Martin
Trainer Chad Brown finished off the Belmont meet with 18 stakes victories, three of which came in Grade 1 events. On Saturday at Saratoga Race Course, Brown will look to capture the first Grade 1 of the prestigious meet when he saddles four contenders for the $500,000 Diana.
Brown, a four-time winner of the Diana, has used the 1 1/8-mile test over the Mellon Turf Course as a resume builder for Eclipse Award winning campaigns, with Zagora (2012), Lady Eli (2017) and most recently Sistercharlie, who won it last year and looks to repeat coming off of an eight-month layoff.
Peter Brant's reigning Champion Older Mare will make her first start since winning the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf in November at Churchill Downs. The 5-year-old bay Irish-bred won four Grade 1's last year, all over different tracks. She kicked off her 2018 campaign with a win in the Jenny Wiley at Keeneland where she recorded a career best 104 Beyer Speed Figure. Two starts later, she won the Diana by a nose before a win in the Beverly D. over stablemate Fourstar Crook.
Sistercharlie boasts the highest amount of lifetime earnings in the Diana's six-horse field with $2,575,603.
Heading into the Diana, Sistercharlie has recorded strong works over the turf course at Belmont Park, the most recent a half-mile move in 49.80 seconds on July 7.
"She's training really well," Brown said. "I wish I had a prep race for her but she just ran out of time, unfortunately. It's a tall order to start her back in a Grade 1, but she's a champion and she likes the course having won last year, so we're going to give her a shot."
She will leave from post 4 under Hall of Famer and five-time leading rider at Saratoga John Velazquez.
Rushing Fall, owned by e Five Racing Thoroughbreds, has won 8-of-9 career starts, four of which are Grade 1 and will seek a fifth top-flight victory when she breaks from post 2.
A Grade 1 winner at ages 2, 3, and 4, the More Than Ready filly won the Jenny Wiley in her 2019 debut before recording her first triple digit Beyer Speed Figure in the Grade 1 Longines Just a Game, where she earned a 102 Beyer for the one-mile event at Belmont Park.
"The distance is about her limit but she's done it before," Brown said. "This will be the toughest race she's ever run in but she's doing really well."
Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, a two-time leading rider at Saratoga, has been aboard Rushing Fall for every start and will ride again.
Peter Brant's Homerique has won both of her starts since joining Brown's contingent in the United States and will make her first Grade 1 start when emerging from post 6.
The 4-year-old daughter of Exchange Rate was placed twice against Group 1 company in France when finishing a close third to Laurens in the Prix de Diane Longines and finishing third a length behind Wild Illusion in the Prix de l'Opera Longines in October at Longchamp.
Homerique made her first start for Brown in the Grade 3 Beaugay on May 11 at Belmont defeating Competitionofideas and went on to best her Grade 1 winning stablemate once more in the next out Grade 2 New York.
"She's very versatile. She's won shorter than this, she's won longer than this," Brown said. "She's an extremely versatile and talented filly and I expect her to run well."
Homerique will be guided by Saratoga's defending leading rider Irad Ortiz, Jr.
Brown also will saddle Peter Brant's Thais, who has yet to win a stakes race in the United States but finished third in last year's Grade 1 Beverly D. behind Sistercharlie. The French-bred dark bay daughter of Rio de La Plata was a stakes winner in her final European start in July 2017 and was a last-out fourth in the Plenty of Grace over the Aqueduct turf on April 14. Her lone victory in North America was against allowance company in May 2018 at Belmont Park.
Thais will be ridden by Manny Franco from post 1.
Looking to upset the Brown contingent is graded stakes winner Mitchell Road, who won the Grade 3 Gallorette on May 18 at Pimlico. Owned by Mrs. J.V. Shields and E.J. McFadden, the 4-year-old daughter of English Channel went wire-to-wire in four of her five career victories.
Mitchell Road, a half-sister to Grade 1 Kentucky Derby winner Country House, will attempt her fifth straight win having found the winner's circle twice against allowance company and in the Albert M. Stall Memorial on February 16 at Fair Grounds.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, a four-time winner of the Diana, Mitchell Road will be piloted by Jose Lezcano from post 3.
Trainer Graham Motion came close to winning last year's Diana with Ultra Brat, who missed a nose to Sistercharlie and will seek redemption when he saddles Secret Message, who breaks from post 5.
Owned by Madaket Stables, ERJ Racing, Elayne Stable 5 and Bouchey Thoroughbreds, the dark bay Hat Trick filly is a two-time graded stakes winner, capturing the Grade 3 Pucker Up at Arlington in August and the Grade 2 Nassau at Woodbine last out. Secret Message has won both of her starts this year. Prior to the Nassau, she won the Dahlia at Laurel Park on April 20.
Secret Message will be ridden by Trevor McCarthy.
The Diana is slated as Race 9 on Saturday's 11-race card. First post is 1 p.m.