Owner Peter Brant was elated when he purchased Sistercharlie from French connections in order to run her in the $1 million Belmont Oaks Invitational Stakes on July 8, 2017 and she finished a game second to stablemate New Money Honey, missing by a neck.
Soon after the then-3-year-old filly confirmed Brant’s high regard for her, he was downcast. Trainer Chad Brown made the phone call trainers dread, informing the owner that his recent big purchase was seriously ill with a lung infection. She would be sidelined indefinitely – if she returned to the races at all.
“It wasn’t life-threating,” Brown said. “But it was career-threatening at one point.”
Brown added: “She was pretty sick. It was a bad lung infection. Thankfully, she was able to overcome it. A lot of patience from Mr. Brant. He’s a veteran of this game, and he understands patience. He’s seen all ends of it. He gave her all the time she needed.”
Patience tends to be rewarded in the rollercoaster game that is Thoroughbred racing. It was again when Sistercharlie rose up at the last instant to overtake Ultra Brat by a nose in the tightest of photo finishes in the $500,000 Diana Stakes on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.
It was the second Grade 1 triumph for Sistercharlie since she returned from her debilitating illness. She resumed competition with a flourish, when she stormed home to capture the Grade 1 Coolmore Jenny Wiley Stakes by 2 ¼ lengths against Fourstar Crook on April 14 at Keeneland. Fourstar Crook turned the tables when she edged her by a head in the Grade 2 New York Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets on June 8 at Belmont Park, leading to the Diana.
The 1 1/8-mile Diana represents the first Grade 1 of Saratoga’s prestigious summer meet. Its importance to Brown, who hails from nearby Mechanicville, N.Y., was reflected in his willingness to enter three of the seven starters. A Raving Beauty ran a star-crossed third; New Money Honey finished sixth.
“My mentor, Bobby Frankel, I always remember him pointing for a handful of races. This race always came up,” Brown said. “Every year I participate, I think about him. ‘What would he think about this?’ I use everything he taught me to work with these horses and get the job done.”
Sistercharlie sure made it interesting for John Velazquez, her jockey, before covering the distance on the Mellon turf course in 1:46.26. She paid $4.30 as a heavy favorite.
“She switched leads late,” Velazquez said. “But when she finally did, she gave me that spurt down the lane to get there in time. She’s a very good filly. She just has to put it together at the start and break better. But she’s definitely talented.”
So is Ultra Brat, a huge disappointment when she faltered in 10th in the Jenny Wiley before rebounding to be a runaway victor in the Grade 3 Gallorette Stakes on May 19 at Pimlico Race Course. Her trainer, Graham Motion, debated long and hard whether she was up to the task in the Diana.
Well, she almost was.
“I’m thrilled. She reaffirmed what I thought, that she belonged in the race,” Motion said. “It’s just a tough beat.”
Tough does not begin to describe the misfortune that A Raving Beauty encountered. Irad Ortiz, Jr., her jockey, thought he had a hole on the rail. As he dived for it, it closed as suddenly as it had opened. He was forced to check hard.
“She was sitting on a big race,” Brown said. “Unfortunately, it was not her trip today.”
Brown said he will step up Sistercharlie in distance moving forward. He is targeting be the 1 3/16-mile Beverly D. Stakes at Arlington Park on Aug. 11 for her next start.
“I know it’s in three weeks, but this filly is strong and there’s a lot of constitution about her,” he said. She’s lightly raced, and if she’s sound, I’m going to take her to Chicago.”
It would hardly be surprising if Chicago is, indeed, her kind of town.