Lady Eli-Antonoe clash in Diana highlights Saratoga stakes prospectus
Racing fans won’t have long to wait for fireworks at Saratoga’s 149th season: Lady Eli and Antonoe are expected to clash for the first time in Saturday’s $500,000 Diana (G1).
If Friday’s curtain raiser can’t equal that star power, its pair of $150,000 graded stakes compensate with well-matched fields, and Sunday’s $300,000 Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) features leading three-year-old filly Abel Tasman.
According to the probables released by NYRA, here’s how the Spa’s opening weekend stakes are shaping up.
Lake George (G3): Grade 3 winners Fifty Five and Dream Dancing were second and third, respectively, in the Wonder Again (G3) to next-out Belmont Oaks (G1) vixen New Money Honey. While Fifty Five is Chad Brown’s lone representative in the 1 1/16-mile turf test, Mark Casse could be double-handed with Dream Dancing and Victory to Victory, last year’s Natalma (G1) queen seeking a return to top form. Hilltop heroine Happy Mesa, who just sold for $500,000 at Fasig-Tipton’s July Selected Horses of Racing Age Sale last Monday, may make her debut for Out of This World Racing and trainer Mike Maker. (Note she’s entered in Thursday’s Ta Wee at Indiana Grand.) Her former stablemate from the Graham Motion barn, multiple stakes victress Party Boat, comes off a troubled second in the Penn Oaks. The top two from the Regret (G3), smashing winner Sweeping Paddy and Proctor’s Ledge, are set to renew rivalry, and Jimmy Toner has penciled in the well-bred duo of Defiant Honor and Bellavais.
Schuylerville (G3): Steve Asmussen could have sent out his exciting juvenile filly Buy Sell Hold here, so it’s intriguing that he instead relies on Laudation to give him a fourth trophy in this six-furlong dash. The cleverly-named daughter of Congrats and multiple Grade 2 victress Rite Moment broke her maiden by three lengths at Churchill Downs last out. Six-time Schuylerville winner Todd Pletcher calls up Gulfstream debut winner Stainless, a daughter of Flatter from the family of champion juvenile filly Countess Diana. Astoria runner-up Best Performance, a $300,000 Fasig-Tipton Florida purchase in March, is regarded highly enough by Christophe Clement to sport a Del Mar Debutante (G1) nomination. Undefeated My Dear romper Dream It Is rates a threat if she can transfer her Woodbine Tapeta form to dirt. Take Charge Paula dominated her Monmouth premiere for Kelly Breen, while Pacific Gale looks to step up off a Belmont debut score, as do Laurel winner Limited View and Parx invader Mel’s Gone Wild (listed as possible).
Sanford (G3): If Bob Baffert decides to send 11-length Santa Anita maiden conqueror Serengeti, he would be the one to beat in this historic six-furlong contest. A Del Mar Futurity (G1) nominee, the $200,000 Algorithms colt is out of a half-sister to Baffert’s Grade 2-winning sprinter Fast Bullet and descends from champion two-year-old filly Brave Raj. But Serengeti is just a “possible” at last report. Dale Romans has two Albaugh Family Stable colts in the mix, both debut winners at Churchill. The probable Free Drop Billy, a $200,000 Keeneland September buy, is a Union Rags half-brother to Godolphin’s Group 1 winner Hawkbill. The possible Dak Attack, a $625,000 Ghostzapper colt from the same sale, is out of a stakes-winning daughter of champion Proud Spell. Keeneland debut romper Direct Dial comes off a second in the Tremont for Asmussen. Tremont third Admiral Jimmy could be one of two for Pletcher, in search of his seventh Sanford, along with Gulfstream maiden winner Bal Harbour. Belmont debut scorer Psychoanalyze and victorious Laurel firster Nauti Boy round out the projected cast.
The Diana: Brown had the option of splitting up stable legend Lady Eli (pictured) and emerging star Antonoe, so it’s just brilliant that the world-class showdown is taking place already in midsummer. The 1 1/8-mile distance is perhaps the closest to a neutral playing field. Although Lady Eli has been outstanding from one to 1 1/4 miles, the laminitis survivor is arguably better suited to more distance at this stage of her career. Antonoe, on the other hand, showed the devastating acceleration of a miler in her breakout Just a Game (G1). The Juddmonte homebred certainly has the pedigree to stretch out, but the Diana represents a more gradual increase. It’s not a two-horse race either, for Godolphin’s Dickinson beat Lady Eli fair and square in the Jenny Wiley (G1), and her Just a Game rally was inconvenienced when she was herded out. Not that she would have contained the explosive Antonoe that day, but a cleaner trip over an extra furlong won’t hurt the Kiaran McLaughlin improver. Del Mar Oaks (G1) winner Harmonize, fourth in the Just a Game, should appreciate the added ground as well. Motion’s Quidura, a fine third in the Jenny Wiley, cuts back in trip off a hard-trying second in the New York (G2). The three possibles are all from the Shug McGaughey barn – Grade 2 winner On Leave, who recently returned to the winner’s circle in the Perfect Sting; French Group 3 queen War Flag, victorious in her U.S. debut at Monmouth; and Grade 3 scorer My Impression, winless this term.
The Coaching Club American Oaks: With Unique Bella sidelined, Abel Tasman has jumped up to turn the Kentucky Oaks (G1)/Acorn (G1) double, and she’ll try to consolidate her grip on the three-year-old filly division. Salty, by the same sire in Quality Road, hopes her third crack at Abel Tasman is the charm. A troubled fifth in the Kentucky Oaks, Salty was beaten only a length in the Acorn, where she was four wide and Abel Tasman deftly got through on the rail. The 1 1/8-mile prize is attracting a short field. Elate has been bitterly disappointing much of the year, but the Mott trainee may have turned the corner when outclassing the opposition in Delaware Park’s Light Hearted S. Berned was also last seen in Wilmington, as a closing fifth in the Delaware Oaks (G3), and looms as possible for the two-week turnaround in this spot. Demoiselle (G2) runner-up Jamyson ‘n Ginger, second in her belated reappearance in a June 1 allowance at Belmont, is likewise possible.
The Caress: As you’d expect for a $200,000 turf sprint, there’s no shortage of interest. Eleven fillies and mares are expected to turn up, a list comprising defending champion Miss Ella (who won an off-the-turf running for Motion), recent Intercontinental (G3) heroine Mississippi Delta from the Casse barn, McGaughey’s Grade 3 vixen Fair Point, the admirably consistent Everything Lovely, Jimmy Jerkens’ Summer Reading, Ultimate Holiday, Chilean import/Southern California shipper Paquita Coqueta in her bow for Chad Summers, last-out Blue Sparkler winner Blue Bahia, Rumble Doll, Pretty Perfection, and Carolina Shag.
Lady Eli photo courtesy NYRA/Coglianese Photography/Chelsea Durand