Also entered in the nine-furlong event is 2006 Eclipse Award winner Wait a While, and Bit of Whimsy, who seeks her fourth graded stakes triumph in just 10 starts. Consistent 5-year-olds Bayou’s Lassie and Criminologist, and the Bill Mott-trained Dynaforce, making just her second start in the states, also add intrigue to the evenly-matched field of 10.
The Diana is the first of four graded stakes on the 11-race program, all of which will be televised on ABC. The winner will receive an automatic berth in the Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) Oct. 24 at Santa Anita.
Virginia Kraft Payson’s Rutherienne is the most accomplished of Clement’s talented pair. The 4-year-old Pulpit filly has won nine of 13 starts, including five in graded stakes company. Last year’s Del Mar Oaks (gr. IT) winner, Rutherienne began her season with a victory in the Jenny Wiley Stakes (gr. IIT) at Keeneland, but has finished third in her last two starts – the May 26 Gamely (gr. IT) at Hollywood and June 21 All Along Breeders’ Cup Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Colonial Downs.
“She’s consistent, and has been doing well,” said Clement of Rutherienne, who has earnings of more than $800,000. “Garrett Gomez is flying in from California that day and will be riding her – he gets along well with her.”
Jon and Sarah Kelly’s Vacare is coming off a disappointing eighth-place finish in the June 7 Just A Game Stakes (gr. IT) at Belmont, but was only four lengths off the pace. That was the first start of the year for the 5-year-old Lear Fan mare. She closed out her 2007 season with a victory in the First Lady Stakes (gr. IIT) at Keeneland.
“I think she has improved from that race,” said Clement of the Just A Game. “She had a horrible trip in that. Since then she has been doing very well, and I think she will be competitive.”
Clement has assigned Edgar Prado to ride Vacare, who won the 2006 edition of the grade I Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland and is 6-1-1 from nine lifetime starts.
Clement also said that one or both of his fillies could be scratched if the turf is too soft. Heavy rains have hit Saratoga over the past few days.
Arindel Farm’s Wait a While has found the Saratoga turf to her liking the past two years, as she captured the Lake Placid Stakes (gr. IIT) in 2006 on her way to being named champion 3-year-old filly, and came back the following year to take the Ballston Spa Handicap (gr. IIT). Trained by Todd Pletcher, the 5-year-old daughter of Maria's Mon enters the Diana off a victory in the San Gorgonio Handicap (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita, but that was more than six months ago. She was sidelined with a stress fracture in her left tibia.
“She has been training well (at Churchill Downs),” said Pletcher of Wait a While, who has won 10 of 20 starts and more than $1.8 million. “She prefers the courses at Hollywood Park and Saratoga, where she tends to perform extra well. At Belmont Park, even with firm turf, it’s not quite the same.”
The fourth grade I winner in the field is Joyce Young and Gerald McManis’ Bit of Whimsy, who comes off sixth-place finishes in the Jenny Wiley and Just a Game. The 2007 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup winner, Bit of Whimsy has never started at Saratoga. Eibar Coa will ride for Barclay Tagg.
$500,000 Diana Handicap (gr. IT, Race 7, 4:12 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 3 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Bit of Whimsy (KY), 120, Eibar Coa
2. Dynaforce (KY), 118, Kent J. Desormeaux
3. Bayou's Lassie (FL), 118, Robby Albarado
4. Wait a While (KY), 120, Rafael Bejarano
5. Vacare (KY), 118, Edgar S. Prado
6. Criminologist (KY), 118, John R. Velazquez
7. Rutherienne (KY), 120, Garrett K. Gomez
8. Forever Together (KY), 118, Julien R. Leparoux
9. Chestoria (NY), 118, Cornelio H. Velasquez
10. Lady Digby (KY), 118, Ramon A. Dominguez