A pair of Breeders' Cup winners and highly-regarded stablemates lined up for battle in Saturday's Grade 1 Diana Stakes at Saratoga, with the betting public alternating between the two throughout the afternoon.
Though e5 Racing's Rushing Fall ended up going off as the 8-5 wagering favorite, it was Peter Brant's Sistercharlie (9-5) who pulled away to hit the wire first and earn back-to-back victories in the historic turf contest. The 5-year-old daughter of Myboycharlie was ridden to perfection by Hall of Famer John Velazquez, stalking Rushing Fall down the backstretch and running her down in the stretch to score by 1 3/4 lengths. In her first start since her win in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf, Sistercharlie completed nine furlongs in 1:47.93 over turf rated “good.”
“Another great performance from a great mare,” said trainer Chad Brown. “She showed why she's the best. [Owner] Peter [Brant] made the decision to come back and race her another year. He's a great sportsman and he loves seeing this horse run. We were going to start her campaign a little earlier in the year, and she got sick on us. We had to wait and he was very patient. She just hit all her works right leading up to this race.”
It was the fourth straight Diana win and fifth overall for Brown, who also saddled the top three finishers: Sistercharlie, Rushing Fall, and Homerique.
“It's very special,” said Brown. “We knew going into the race we had the top three choices, but then for all of them to run the way they did and finish one-two-three is remarkable. It's unfortunate any one of them had to lose. They all ran winning races, but that's why we ran them. We wanted to settle it on the track.”
The longest shot on the board at 38-1 and also trained by Brown, Thais went winging out of the starting gate to set very fast early fractions of :22.10 and :45.90. She was initially accompanied by Mitchell Road, but that rival eased back to be about three lengths off the leader down the backstretch. There was another gap of at least five lengths back to Rushing Fall, and Sistercharlie followed her stablemate on the outside. Secret Message was close up to that pair, and Homerique trailed the field at least a dozen lengths off the pace.
Approaching the turn the field began to compress, and nearing the quarter pole Mitchell Road went to the two-path around Thais. That forced Rushing Fall three-wide and Sistercharlie wider still around the turn, while Homerique opted to wait and save a little ground before angling out in the stretch run.
Rushing Fall got first run on the leaders and tried to sprint away down the lane, but Sistercharlie's sustained drive carried her past her stablemate in the final sixteenth of a mile. Sistercharlie crossed the wire 1 3/4 lengths ahead of an always-determined Rushing Fall, while Homerique's momentum was interrupted a bit late when she changed leads but was a clear third. Secret Message was best of the rest.
“We had a nice pace setup from the stablemate [No. 1, Thais] and Johnny [Velazquez] knows this mare so well,” Brown continued. “He also did a great job. I loved where she was throughout the trip. I was worried she was going to be too far back coming off the layoff. She's done that in some of her races where she was very far back. I was very comfortable where all my horses were on the backside. It set up as I expected with these three horses coming down the lane, particularly Sistercharlie more than likely running at Rushing Fall at the wire. It's unfortunate one had to lose – that any of the three had to lose. They all ran great races in their own right that would win many Dianas.”
Bred in Ireland by Ecurie Des Monceaux, Sistercharlie was a $13,592 yearling at the 2015 Arqana sale. She began her career in France, scoring a Group 3 win and a second in the G1 Prix de Diane before Brant purchased her privately and transferred her to the United States. Sistercharlie has not finished worse than second in North America, and the repeat Diana win improves her overall record to eight wins from 12 starts and earnings of over $2.8 million.
“Chad told me that she was ready and you have to give it to Chad,” said Velazquez. “He did a great job with her. He passed the race at Belmont and said, 'Don't worry, I'll get her ready for the Diana.' It worked out perfect. She came back very well and they did a great job with her. She was there for me.”
“She's the most consistent horse I've ever had,” added owner Peter Brant. “Any time she has lost, she's had a major excuse. She's a very special horse. You only get one like that in a lifetime and I'm fortunate enough to be associated with her.”
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