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Didia Tops Field in Saratoga’s Diana Stakes

Didia can top Chad Brown-trained quintet in Saratoga Race Course’s Diana (G1T).

Mathea Kelley

The $500,000 Diana Stakes (G1T) is the first grade 1 race during what promises to be another big Saratoga Race Course summer meeting. Five of the 10 horses entered to run on turf in the Diana already are millionaires, and those entrants are just some of the many contenders in the stellar field.

Leading the field is Didia at more than $1.5 million in career earnings, coming off a win in the similar New York Stakes (G1T) last month at Saratoga. Canadian classic winner Moira ($1.4 million) makes her first start of the year, having won the Canadian Stakes (G2T) last September as her biggest turf accomplishment. Both Fluffy Socks and Gina Romantica check in at $1.2 million in earnings. Fluffy Socks enters this race off a win in the Gallorette Stakes (G3T) while Gina Romantica hasn't won since last fall, but that victory came in the First Lady Stakes (G1T). Chili Flag crossed the $1 million threshold last month with a win in the Just a Game Stakes (G1T) and certainly fits with these. The talent doesn't end with that group as 2023 Diana winner Whitebeam attempts to improve off a narrow defeat when second in the Just a Game, as does Mission of Joy, who was just another head behind in third. Similarly, Evvie Jets, who won the Ballston Spa Stakes (G2T) last summer at Saratoga, led from the start in the Just a Game and was beaten a total of three-quarters of a length when fourth in that blanket finish. Neecie Marie also appears to have a strong shot to succeed as she was second recently behind Didia in the New York Stakes. Coppice rounds out the field but is not without a chance either as she was beaten a neck by Chili Flag in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile Stakes (G2T) in May before suffering from a troubled start in the Just a Game Stakes last month. Venti Valentine is entered to run if the race comes off the grass and is run on dirt. She won the Critical Eye Stakes on the dirt at Saratoga last month.

Top contenders:

Trainer Chad Brown entered five of the 10 in the main body of the Diana, but he still may not find the winner's circle when all is said and done. This is because the horse to beat may be Didia, trained by Ignacio Correas IV. Winner of 11 of her 15 turf starts, the 6-year-old mare proved she has not lost a step with a powerful victory last month on this course in the New York Stakes. The 1 3/16-mile distance of that race is a bit farther than the 1 1/8-mile distance of this race but similar enough, and she won her only race at this distance since importing to the United States in the summer of 2022 when taking the 2023 Modesty Stakes (G3T) in May of last year. In the New York Stakes, Didia earned a 113 Equibase Speed Figure, which is just two points off her career top and the best figure earned this year among any horse in the field. Jose Ortiz was aboard for the win in the New York, as well as her Pegasus World Cup Filly and Mare Turf Invitational Stakes (G2T) win in January and rides the mare back in the Diana, so the chances of her repeating her effort from one month ago appear pretty strong.

Neecie Marie started 11th of 13 in the New York Stakes then showed an excellent kick when going from 10th to fifth after a half-mile had been run, then moving up from fourth to second in the stretch. Prior to that, Neecie Marie returned from 5 1/2 months off to win the Beaugay Stakes (G3T), beating Whitebeam by a neck, and earning a 103 ESF. Improving to a 111 ESF in the New York, the pattern suggests Neecie Marie is going to take another step forward in her third start off a layoff, and considering she is a 4-year-old she certainly has room to improve on that count as well. As such, Neecie Marie may have an upset shot in this race, particularly as she may be ignored by bettors who will be gravitating to horses who won their most recent race and those trained by Chad Brown, which she is not.

Whitebeam and Chili Flag finished second and first, respectively, in the Just a Game Stakes, run at the shorter distance of one mile on the Saratoga turf. Both are trained by Chad Brown, who also entered Coppice, Gina Romantica, and Fluffy Socks. Whitebeam won this race last year with a 113 ESF, the same figure Didia earned winning the New York Stakes last month. However, in the Just a Game, run on the same day as the New York, Whitebeam earned only a 96 ESF, not good enough to win this race if repeated. On the other hand, she earned a 102 ESF when beaten by just a neck by Neecie Marie in the Beaugay Stakes in May and she is also making her third start following a five-month layoff so there is room to improve. This is particularly true because prior to winning the Diana in 2023, Whitebeam earned only an 87 ESF winning the Gallorette Stakes before improving to 113 in her third start off a layoff, the same as she will be making in the Diana.

Chili Flag has won five of her last eight races going back to last summer, including three graded stakes in succession. She won the Honey Fox Stakes (G3T) in March with a 104 ESF before improving to a 109 ESF when victorious in the Distaff Turf Mile in May. She earned a 97 ESF winning the Just a Game on the same day Didia earned a 113 ESF winning the New York last month over this course. All three recent wins have come at the distance of one mile, and the only time she ran this distance she lost by a nose. That isn't to say she can't win the race, but one mile may be her preferred distance as compared with this 1 1/8-mile trip.

The rest of the field (with best Equibase Speed Figure in a representative race): Coppice (109), Evvie Jets (112), Fluffy Socks (112), Gina Romantica (118), Mission of Joy (118), Moira (120). Venti Valentine (95), entered to run if the race moves to the main track.

Win contenders in preference/probability order:

Didia
Neecie Marie
Whitebeam
Chili Flag