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Race of the Week: Diana at Saratoga | Saturday, July 13, 2024

by Jeremy Plonk

July 10, 2024

The Lead:
The first Grade 1 of the 2024 Saratoga summer meet takes place Saturday with top Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf division competitors in the Diana. The 1-1/8 miles grass test goes as Race 10 on the card that also features the Grade 3 Kelso and Grade 3 Sanford. Trainer Chad Brown has won the Diana 6 of the last 7 years and a record 8 times overall; he'll saddle no less than 5 of the 10 entrants on Saturday.

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Field Depth:
Grade 1 winners in the lineup include DIDIA, GINA ROMANTICA, WHITEBEAM and CHILI FLAG. Meanwhile, Grade 2 winners who are Grade 1-placed include MOIRA, FLUFFY SOCKS and EVVIE JETS.

EVVIE JETS has shown the most propensity to go the front and likely will be asked early from an outer draw. WHITEBEAM and DIDIA project to be in close attendance of a pace that will be very modest and give deep closers a major obstacle to overcome.

Our Eyes:
Here are my horse-by-horse notes.

#1-MOIRA: '22 Queen's Plate winner hasn't run since a third in last year's Breeders' Cup F&M Turf and she did not come back firing her best in her unveilings at ages 3 and 4. Respect the 5YO mare, but may need the race.

#2-COPPICE: Disappointed as favorite in the Distaff Turf Mile and Just A Game since arriving in the US (troubled starts in both), twice chasing Chad Brown stablemate and Diana rival Chili Flag. Pure miler in England prior, reason for concern adding an additional furlong.

#3-MISSION OF JOY: 6-time Diana winner John Velazquez looks to add to his race record riding exploits. Filly has lost 6 straight, but was only a half-length back of Chili Flag and Whitebeam in the Just A Game over a mile. Longer trip works back in favor of this Graham Motion trainee.

#4-DIDIA: Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf winner is having a strong 6-year-old season, but it's notable no mare 6 or older has won the Diana since 1963. Her last start during the Belmont Stakes Festival at Saratoga was one of the best of her career and she's as reliable as they come.

#5-GINA ROMANTICA: Millionaire has been off form in both starts so far this year, and while she did win at this distance in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland a few years back, her best trip and kick is at a flat mile. Manny Franco comes off a Belmont at Aqueduct meet title and takes over for trainer Brown.

#6-WHITEBEAM: Defending Diana champion outkicked heavily favored barnmate In Italian in this race last year. Only 5 have won this race back-to-back and they were superstars: Sistercharlie, Forever Together, Shuvee, Tempted and Miss Grillo. Should get a dynamite trip near the front under Flavien Prat for Team Brown.

#7-FLUFFY SOCKS: Late-running veteran got a confidence boost in the Grade 3 Gallorette at Pimlico, snapping a 7-race losing streak with authority over soft ground. Much tougher task and her 0-5 Sararoga turf mark includes a fifth in this race last year. Likely slow pace hurts her style, though Joel Rosario should be a good style fit on the Brown trainee.

#8-NEECIE MARIE: From-the-clouds closer in recent starts will need the pace to come back to her. Parx-based filly was 26-1 runner-up over this course behind Didia in the Grade 1 New York during the Belmont Stakes Festival. Tough task given deeper field and race shape.

#9-EVVIE JETS: Rallying winner of last year's Ballston Spa over this turf course likely changes tactics Saturday due to a lack of other pace. She went to the front last time out when fourth in the Just A Game, beaten only three-quarters of a length vs. 3 of her return rivals in the Diana. The distance will stretch her to the hilt, but a slower pace helps.

#10-CHILI FLAG: Rising star in the division was sixth at 27-1 to start the season in the Pegasus World Cup F&M Turf, but has rattled off wins at Gulfstream, Churchill and Saratoga since. Posted 4-1 minor upsets of more ballyhooed stablemates in the Distaff Turf Mile and Just A Game, but likely to finally get supported on the tote in the Diana. Deep closer could be pace-compromised.

(MTO) #11-VENTI VALENTINE: NY-bred would be dangerous up front in an off-turf situation.

Most Certain Exotics Contender:
DIDIA has missed only 1 superfecta in her last 16 starts and should be in receipt of a favorable trip near the front.

Best Longshot Exotics Contender:
MISSION OF JOY is 10-1 morning line and never misfires, already proving she's capable of hitting the superfecta ticket against most of these.​

Sending it in ($100 bankroll):
$90 win WHITEBEAM. $10 exacta WHITEBEAM over MISSION OF JOY.