Opening weekend at Saratoga a horse racing highlight

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
In Italian, shown winning the 2022 Grade I Diana at Saratoga, heads a four-horse Chad Brown squad entered for Saturday's renewal of the same race. Cognianese Photo, courtesy of New York Racing Association
1 of 3 | In Italian, shown winning the 2022 Grade I Diana at Saratoga, heads a four-horse Chad Brown squad entered for Saturday's renewal of the same race. Cognianese Photo, courtesy of New York Racing Association

July 14 (UPI) -- It's no surprise that Saratoga's opening weekend tops the racing agenda, but it is a little surprising that trainer Chad Brown has four of only five entries in Saturday's biggest race, the Grade I Diana for turf fillies and mares.

While the Spa is the star, Delaware Park, Monmouth and Woodbine all chip in with stakes events and Del Mar's summer starts next weekend.


Along the way, things start to get serious for the 2-year-olds with the Sanford and Schuylerville at Saratoga. The Schuylerville is in the books and it was a surprise of its own (see the Juvenile Fillies section).

On the international front, we have some impressive early results from Newmarket's July meeting in England and an undefeated 3-year-old reigning on the Japanese dirt.

As noted, Saratoga's summer meeting is off and running and Jose Ortiz, who rode the winner of the season's first race there, summed things up: "It's still early, but it is good to get the ball rolling and try to pile on some wins." In that spirit, let's get the ball rolling.


Filly & Mare Turf

Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Diana Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga is one of the meeting's premier turf events.

Last year's winner, In Italian, looks like a logical choice to repeat after winning her first two starts of 2023, both Grade I affairs. The 5-year-old Dubawi mare is in really good form.

Brown's other three also come off victories: Marketsegmentation in the Grade I New York Stakes at Belmont Park, Fluffy Socks in the Grade II Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill Downs and Whitebeam in the Grade III Gallorette at Pimlico.

Mark Casse trains the other horse in the field, Fev Rover, last seen winning the Grade II Nassau at Woodbine in her seasonal debut.

Six signed on for Saturday's $150,000 Christiana Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Delaware Park, and there are several ways to assess the field.

The morning-line pick, Miss Riddler, won her first two starts, but finished fourth in the Grade III Regret at Churchill Downs in her latest trip.

Hang the Moon has been consistently competitive without winning much.

Thirty Thou Kelvin and Sabalenka fit the same bill. The others require an act of faith or suspension of disbelief.


Freedom Trail, Really Good and Ocean City top the morning line in a field of seven 3-year-olds set for Saturday's $150,000 Kent Stakes at Delaware Park.


None has done anything to write home about, although Really Good was second in the Hawthorne Derby in his last start and Ocean City has a two-race winning streak comprising a Keeneland maiden race and a Delaware Park allowance affair.

Turf Mile

Saturday's $175,000 Grade III Kelso Stakes at Saratoga has eight entries plus one for "main track only." It's an interesting mix of old and new, speed and late rally with the potential to set up for a closer-stalker type.

That well could be Annapolis, a 4-year-old War Front colt who had a very nice summer at Saratoga in 2022 and won his seasonal debut at Churchill Downs in May.

Turf Sprint

Love Reigns rules as morning-line favorite in a field of eight 3-year-old fillies set for Friday's $150,000 Coronation Cup at Saratoga.

The Wesley Ward trainee, a daughter of U S Navy Flag, finished eighth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint last year and won her only previous start of 2023, the Limestone Stakes at Keeneland in April. She finished fourth in the Group 2 Queen Mary at last year's Royal Ascot.

Also high on the morning line are Love Appeals and My Sweet Affair, all of whom would make a "love-ly" trifecta hunch bet. Love Appeals and My Sweet Affair are cross-entered at Monmouth Park, though.


If Love Appeals goes in Saturday's $100,000 Blue Sparkler Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Monmouth Park, she would be the 3-1 morning line favorite. It's wide open after that, with My Sweet Affair also among at least half the nine-horse field given a good shot by the oddsmaker.

Wesley Ward trains two of the 10 in for Sunday's $175,000 Grade III Quick Call Stakes for 3-year-olds at Saratoga -- New York-bred Eye Witness and Irish-bred No Nay Hudson. The latter has won three straight, but the former has been operating at a bit higher level.

There are several runners last seen in the William Walker Stakes at Belmont Park, including the winner, No Nay Hudson, or the Paradise Creek Stakes at Belmont Park, won by Eye Witness.

Ward didn't have the best Royal Ascot, so he's due to be hot for a while now. There are two "main track only" entries.

Sunday's $100,000 My Frenchman Stakes for 3-year-olds at Monmouth Park has a field of eight plus one main-track-only entry. None has done much to date, but the potential is there -- and someone's gotta win.


Saturday's $175,000 Sanford Stakes at Saratoga has a field of 10.


Gold Sweep won the Tremont Stakes at Belmont Park in his second start with a 91 Beyer Speed Figure and the Speightstown colt, trained by Steve Asmussen, figures to draw a lot of action as none of the others has been awarded a figure above 67.

Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Victoria Stakes on the Woodbine all-weather track has five takers. Four come off maiden wins, and the fifth, Pipit, finished second in his only previous start.

Mattingly finished second to No Nay Mets in the Royal Palm Juvenile at Gulfstream Park in his first race May 13, albeit 3 1/2 lengths back in that one, and then won next time out.

No Nay Mets went to Royal Ascot, where he finished ninth in the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes.

Juvenile Fillies

Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) My Dear Stakes on the Woodbine all-weather track has a field of seven, with Stormcast and Dancing Duchess topping the morning line. All of them have a lot to prove.

Already in the books: Becky's Joker, a first-time starter, posted a big upset win in the first stakes race of the Saratoga season, romping home first by 3 1/4 lengths in Thursday's $175,000 Grade III Schuylerville Stakes.


With Javier Castellano up for trainer Gary Contessa, the Practical Joke filly was off a step slow, stalked the pace and hit the front inside the three-sixteenths pole. Castellano kept her focused from there, finishing 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.52.

Saratoga Secret and Closing Act filled the trifecta slots and the favorite, Wine On Tap, tapped out, finishing fourth.

Around the world, around the clock ...



Israr powered away from the big favorite and 2021 Derby winner Adayar in the final 2 furlongs of Thursday's Group 2 Princess of Wales's Stakes at Newmarket and won by an easy 4 1/2 lengths over that rival while geared down by jockey Jim Crowley.

Global Storm, who made the early pace for Godolphin stablemate Adayar, was third, and Grand Alliance got a good paid gallop while completing the order of finish, 21 lengths back of the winner.

Israr, a 4-year-old Shadwell homebred colt by Muhaarar, got his first win of the season after a pair of seconds. Adayar, third in the Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot, appeared leg-weary in the final furlongs after taking the lead from Global Storm turning for home.


Earlier on the program, Crowley booted home Jasour to victory in the 6-furlong, Group 2 Kingdom of Bahrain July Stakes for 2-year-old colts and geldings.

The Havana Grey colt was last halfway through the race but shot through a big gap and won powerfully by 2 lengths over Lake Forest. It was his second straight win after a runner-up showing in his debut for trainer Clive Cox.

Also Thursday, Castle Way edged the favorite, Tower of London, and Saint George by a head and a neck in winning the Group 3 Bahrain Trophy for 3-year-olds.

And Nostrum, third behind Chaldean and Royal Scotsman in last year's Group 1 Darley Dewhurst at Newmarket, made a dramatic statement in his well-awaited 3-year-old debut, drawing off to win the Edmondson Hall Solicitors Sir Henry Cecil Stakes by 3 lengths.

Previously unbeaten Embesto was left in his wake to finish second.

Friday's Group 1 Tattersalls Falmouth Stakes for fillies and mares has a field of nine with early support going to Group 1 Pretty Polly Stakes winner Via Sistina.

Last year's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf fourth-place finisher Nashwa and Coronation Stakes runner-up Remarquee.

The prospective field for Saturday's Group 1 July Cup is topped by Shaquille and Azure Blue. Shaquille rides a five-race win streak including the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot in his last.


Azure Blue has won four straight. She comes off a win in the Group 2 Duke of York Clipper Stakes at York May 17, in which she wore down Highfield Princess in the closing yards.

Little Big Bear and Kinross are certainly in the mix. Kinross was third, in back of Modern Games and Shirl's Speight, in last year's Breeders' Cup Mile at Keeneland.

Saturday's Group 2 Superlative Stakes for 2-year-olds, 7 furlongs, tentatively features City of Troy from Aidan O'Brien's always loaded yard, the Charlie Appleby-trained Great Truth and nine other hopeful youngsters.


Saturdays' Group 2 Summer Mile has nine with Godolphin's Master of the Seas a narrow favorite in the antepost market.


Mick Fire rallied boldly though the stretch to defeat 10 rivals in Wednesday's Japan Dirt Derby at Oi Racecourse in Tokyo, winning by 2 lengths to remain undefeated after six starts and nailing down a sweep of the three races which next year will be an official "Japan Dirt Triple Crown".

Pacesetting Mitono O looked like a sure winner with 300 meters left in the 2,000-meter Derby. Already a four-time winner, jockey Yutaka Take had him well in front of the field.


As he shortened stride, Mick Fire and jockey Norifumi Mikamoto were just getting revved up, shot to the front well inside the 100-meter mark and won with authority, if not confidence.

"I was watching the race with a lot of uneasy feeling," winning trainer Kazuo Watanabe said. "To be honest, at the final turn, I felt one time we were done. But the jockey rode the horse with tenacious will and the horse responded to him."

Representing the National Association of Racing circuit administered by local authorities, Mick Fire has scored all six wins over the Oi dirt course, including the Tokyo Derby in his last outing June 7 in sloppy conditions.

Seven of his Derby rivals came from the more prestigious Japan Racing Association circuit, where turf racing is the emphasis.

Mick Fire's connections did not immediately outline plans, although Watanabe said a step up might be in order later in the year.

"In the fall, the possible option is to have him run in the JBC Classic here at Oi racecourse, and if he runs a good race, then the (Grade 1) Champion Cup in JRA might be the possibility."

Latest Headlines