The 80th running of the Grade 1, $500,000 Diana Stakes is part of a magnificent opening weekend of racing at historic Saratoga Race Course. Of the seven entered, five are Grade 1 or Grade 2 stakes winners. It may be tough to decide which one leads that quintet, as both A Raving Beauty and Sistercharlie have won at the top level this year. A Raving Beauty won the Longines Just a Game Stakes in June and Sistercharlie was victorious in the Coolmore Jenny Wiley Stakes in April. Proctor’s Ledge captured the Grade 2 Longines Churchill Distaff Turf Mile Stakes in May before a runner-up effort in the Just a Game and fits here. New Money Honey won the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf in 2016 and a pair of graded stakes last year, including the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks Invitational. However, she sat on the sidelines for the last six months of 2017, returning to beat a weak allowance field last month and may not be good enough to handle this competition yet. Hawksmoor won the Grade 2 New York Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets in the spring of 2017 and makes her third start after a long layoff and a poor effort when she stumbled at the start in the Grade 1 Gamely Stakes in May. Ultra Brat won the Grade 3 Gallorette Stakes on a soft course in May but finished 10th in her only previous Grade 1 stakes try. War Canoe rounds out the field.
Hawksmoor is the one to catch in the Diana Stakes and, in my opinion, that makes her the one to beat. In her North American debut in the fall of 2016, Hawksmoor nearly posted the upset when coming up a head and nose short at the finish line in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes Presented by Lane's End before a poor race and the winter off. Returning last May, she led from start to finish in the Grade 3 Beaugay Stakes before an even stronger effort winning the New York Stakes, leading every step of the 1 ¼-mile race. Following two runner-up efforts in top company in the First Lady Stakes and Matriarch Stakes last fall, including a career-best 114 Equibase Speed Figure in the latter race, Hawksmoor took the winter off once again. In her 2018 debut, she settled off the pace in second and battled nose-and-nose to the finish line but came up inches short. Shipping from trainer Arnaud Delacour’s East Coast base for the Gamely Stakes at the end of May, Hawksmoor was highly regarded as the even-money favorite but a stumbling start cost her any chance at the lead she likes to have, and she ran fifth from beginning to end. In the Diana, there is no real need-the-lead type except this mare and in a seven-horse field, jockey Julien Leparoux will have the luxury of going to the lead from the start and establishing a leisurely pace or sitting in second if another horse and rider wants the lead more. As a horse that likes the lead and considering that Hawksmoor can run the last quarter-mile about as fast as any other horse in the race (22.7 seconds in the First Lady Stakes), she should be able to continue in front to the finish line and win this race.
A Raving Beauty has done nothing wrong since coming to North America from Europe, winning the Beaugay Stakes in May with a 108 speed figure followed by a win in the Just a Game Stakes last month. In the Just a Game, A Raving Beauty improved to a 112 figure and may still have improving to do in her third start off a 7 ½-month layoff from October to May. Although both of her races in the U.S. were shorter than the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Diana, A Raving Beauty should have no problem with this distance, which she won at last August in Germany, and so she must be given a lot of respect as a contender to win this race.
Sistercharlie has also done little wrong since shipping to the states last summer, missing by a neck to New Money Honey in the Belmont Oaks Invitational before taking time off. When she returned this past April, Sistercharlie ran as if she had never been away from the races, rallying from eighth to win the Jenny Wiley Stakes and earning a career-best 117 figure that is the best of any entrant in this race. She ran nearly as well last time out in the New York Stakes when rallying from almost 30 lengths back to come up a head short with a 110 figure. Shortening up from 1 ¼ miles for the 1 1/8-mile Diana, Sistercharlie should be putting in a strong late run and it may just be a question of how much ground she has to make up on probable early leader Hawksmoor and how much gas that filly has left in the tank if allowed to lope along on an easy early lead.
The rest of the Diana Stakes field (with best Equibase Speed Figure): New Money Honey (113), Proctor’s Ledge (116), Ultra Brat (108), and War Canoe (94).
A Raving Beauty