The first grade one event of the historic Saratoga meet is the Diana Stakes for fillies and mares going a mile and an eighth on the turf. The pinnacle race on the Saratoga card drew a full field of ten ladies with morning line favoritism falling on Miss Temple City(3-1) for Graham Motion. The Temple City filly is already a grade one winner as she beat her male counterparts in the Maker’s 46 Mile at Keeneland in her 2016 debut. She then ventured across the pond to take on some of Europe’s best turf females at Royal Ascot. Miss Temple City did not disgrace herself running fourth while carrying 131 lbs. and racing over soft ground, a surface she may have not taken too. Back in the States, carrying 10 lbs. less, and running over a turf course that should be firm I expect the Motion trainee to run well in this race. I will include her in my vertical wagers but as for the top spot, I will look elsewhere.
Isabella Sings(8-1) breaking from post ten deserves a look in this race. Trained by Todd Pletcher, the four-year-old Eskendereya filly is more than capable of taking this field gate to wire. She is the speed of the race and if she gets loose on the lead will be extremely hard to run down. I imagine she will employ the same tactics she used in the Grade 2 Hillsborough Stakes when she flew through opening fractions of 45.04 and 1:09 flat before getting run down late by the queen herself, Tepin. There is no Tepin in this race and if the other riders do not recognize he tactical advantage she could steal this race on the front end. That being said, I would expect Miss Temple City to stay close as well as Onus(15-1), who I believe has a legitimate shot to get a piece of the purse at a solid price. Onus wants firm turf so it will be important to pay attention to the weather and moisture levels in the track. The grey filly by Blame is trained by Shug McGaughey and has won four of nine career starts. Her last four races on firm turf have resulted in wins and while she is stepping up to the grade one level for the first time, she is more than capable of being right there at the wire.
Recepta, for Jimmy Toner has been a favorite of mine for the last two years. The five-year-old Speightstown mare always runs hard and has picked up a check in eleven of sixteen career starts. Last time out, in the Grade One Just A Game Stakes she finished second to Celestine who was one hundredth of a second off setting a new stakes record. The mile and an eighth distance of today’s race in the question mark for her as she has spent most of her career running at a flat mile or a mile and sixteenth. If I were betting with my heart, I would put this mare in the winner’s circle. However, I think the added real estate of today’s race may be a bit beyond her scope. She is a contender in this race and I will use her prominently in my exactas and trifectas.
We can’t talk about turf racing without mentioning Chad Brown and he has three entries in this race with Dacita(5-1), Rainha Da Bateria(20-1) and Wekeela(7-2). Dacita made her US debut at Saratoga last year when she handed Tepin her only loss in two years in the Ballston Spa. It took her four starts after that race to get back into the winner’s circle. While she always get’s played at the windows she does not always deliver on the track. On a firm course she is in the mix but she despises a wet turf track so if it rains any at Saratoga she is a play against. Rainha Da Bateria offers great value at her morning line price. I can’t see her winning this race but it would be wise to use her in the bottom of your exotic wagers.
As for my key horse, I landed on Wekeela. The French bred daughter of Hurricane Run sold for a lavish price of 1.2 million dollars. In 2015 Wekeela raced six times in France and five of those were graded races. She did not disappoint with two wins and two second place finishes. In fact, in 10 career starts she has completed the exacta in seven of them. In her US debut she finished second to Tepin in the Grade One Jenny Wiley. She then shipped out to Santa Anita and was the bridesmaid again in the Grade One Gamely. This will be the her second start with Castellano in the saddle and I’m hoping the third time’s the charm for grade one success.
Papo Morales will also appear on the Down the Stretch Radio show Saturday 10-11 am ET on IHeart Radio. Papo and Don Knobel will cover the Sanford and Diana at Saratoga and the San Clemente Handicap and San Diego Handicap at Del Mar.
And make sure to follow Papo on Twitter @papocore1 for race opinions on these and other races throughout the weekend.