SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – If he ran just one of the triumvirate of Sistercharlie, Rushing Fall, and Homerique, trainer Chad Brown would have an excellent chance to win his fourth straight $500,000 Diana Stakes and fifth overall.
As a team, Brown appears to be nearly unbeatable in the first Grade 1 of the Saratoga meet, to be held on Saturday.
That trio and the likely pacesetter Thais gives Brown four of the six runners in the Diana, scheduled for 1 1/8 miles on the turf. Mitchell Road, trained by Bill Mott, and Secret Message, sent out by Graham Motion, complete the field.
Last year, Sistercharlie won the Diana by a nose over the Motion-trained longshot Ultra Brat. The Diana was one of four Grade 1 victories in 2018 recorded by Sistercharlie, capped by a neck victory in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf. That résumé earned her an Eclipse Award as champion female turf horse.
Sistercharlie was being pointed to the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley at Keeneland in April, but she got sick during the winter at Gulfstream and was forced to miss that race. By the time Brown got Sistercharlie training to his satisfaction, he said it was too late to get a race into her before the Diana.
“She’s been ready to run for three weeks,” Brown said. “We didn’t have a suitable prep to give me enough time to recover to the Diana, so we made a decision just to train her up to the race.”
Sistercharlie was good enough to win last year’s Jenny Wiley off a nine-month layoff, leading a 1-2-3 Brown finish with runner-up Fourstar Crook and third-place finisher Off Limits.
“It’s a tall order but she’s a champion horse,” Brown said. “She’s run very well fresh before, but she’s going to face some very good fillies for sure.”
Peter Brant owns Sistercharlie. He also owns Homerique and Thais. In two starts this year, Homerique won the Grade 3 Beaugay and Grade 2 New York at distances of 1 1/16 miles and 1 1/4 miles, respectively. Brown said there are not enough Grade 1 stakes for female turf horses to keep these two separated. Following the Diana, both will likely be pointed to the Grade 1 Beverly D. at Arlington on Aug. 10.
Brown said “her amazing turn of foot” is what has stood out to him about Homerique. “She’s a very versatile horse. She’s another one that ran at many different distances and, like I said, she charges hard for home,” Brown said. “She’s a very, very good horse.”
Rushing Fall might be a great horse. The 4-year-old daughter of More Than Ready has won eight of nine career starts with a neck loss in the 2018 Edgewood Stakes at Churchill Downs her only blemish. She is 2 for 2 at 1 1/8 miles, though Brown said that’s about as far as she wants to run.
“As she’s gotten older she’s gotten bigger and stronger and better. She’s nearly undefeated,” Brown said. “She’s in that group of turf horses that we’ve trained that are the best, and her record shows it.”
Rushing Fall typically does her best running on the lead, but Brown said he wants Thais on the lead Saturday. Thais was the pacemaker in the Beverly D., and while she did her job aiding Sistercharlie by going to the front, Thais did hold on for third.
Thais will break from the rail under Manny Franco with Rushing Fall in post 2 under Javier Castellano.
“I think her best chance to get a piece in this race is if she’s up front,” Brown said of Thais.
Like Brown, Bill Mott has won the Diana four times. He sends out Mitchell Road, who has won four consecutive races, including the Grade 3 Gallorette, which Mott said was her best race, at Pimlico on May 18.
Mitchell Road has not yet run 1 1/8 miles, but Mott notes she is a half-sister to Kentucky Derby winner Country House.
“You’d think she’d have enough stamina in her pedigree,” Mott. “She seems to keep trying.”
Secret Message is 2 for 2 this year, with both wins coming at a mile. Motion is seeking his first victory in the Diana after having run second in it five times in 11 tries.
“I don’t think she’s a miler. She strikes me as a filly that probably doesn’t mind going a little farther,” Motion said. “She’s changed a lot this year – she’s really grown up.”
The Diana will go as race 9 on an 11-race card that begins at 1 p.m. and includes the Grade 3 Sanford Stakes for 2-year-olds.
This story originally appeared on DRF.com.