Favored Sand Springs, with John Velazquez aboard, dictated the pace into the stretch before pulling away to an easy victory in the $500,000 Diana Handicap (gr. IT) on the inner Saratoga turf course Saturday.
The win made it back-to-back graded stakes victories for the 5-year-old daughter of Dynaformer
, who captured the one-mile Just A Game Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT) June 11 at Belmont Park as a tune-up. The Bill Mott-trained Sand Springs won her third graded stakes this year for the Sangster Family Stable and went over the $1 million mark in career earnings.
Mott, an eight-time winner of the Saratoga training title, won his first Diana.
Sand Springs was helped by the scratches of Wonder Again, a 5 3/4-length winner of last year's Diana, and Finery, who figured to be the main pace rival. Spotlight also scratched.
Wonder Again will point instead to the $750,000 Beverly D. (gr. IT) at Arlington Park on August 13.
"She's fine," said her trainer, Jimmy Toner. "I wanted to give her an extra couple of weeks until she ran. Considering her post position today (post 10), the firm course and the fact that she was carrying top weight (120 pounds), we thought she would have a big challenge."
Breaking from the extreme outside post in the field of seven left after the scratches, Sand Springs had to work a bit to beat Winendynme and Shadow Cast to the lead in the long run into the clubhouse turn. But after that, she was left on her own while posting fractions of :24 1/5, :48 1/5 and 1:12 1/5. Challenged by the Argentine-bred Que Puntual and Cornelio Velasquez on the turn, Sand Springs quickly pulled away in upper stretch. She ran the final furlong in :11 2/5 to win going away by 2 1/4 lengths.
"It looked pretty good," Mott said. "I figured after that (first half-mile) we would have no excuse. She didn't break real sharp, but she broke well enough to put herself on the lead. She had the lead by the time she hit the first turn, and nothing was pressing her very hard. Pace makes the race and that's what happened today. She's blessed with a lot of speed. Consequently, they couldn't catch her."
Que Puntual edged the British-bred Angara by a head for second after Angara encountered trouble finding running room in the stretch for Gary Stevens.
"This filly is on the upswing and slowly progressing," said Que Puntual's trainer Angel Penna Jr. "She's a very good filly. Unfortunately, we had no pace. Sand Springs is a good filly. She's not cheap speed."
Film Maker, the narrow second choice of the public, finished a non-threatening fourth. The time was 1:46 4/5, three-fifths off the track record, on very firm turf.
Bred in Kentucky by Willmott Stables, Sand Springs won for the ninth time in 24 starts while increasing her earnings to $1,226,558. She began her 2005 campaign with a sixth-place finish in a Gulfstream Park allowance race in February, but returned to the South Florida track to win the 1 1/16-mile Honey Fox (gr. IIIT) by a nose March 13. Following a second-place finish Churchill Downs' Distaff Turf Mile (gr. IIT) May 7, she routed the field in the Just A Game by 2 1/2 lengths in gate-to-wire style.
"I thought she ran a much bigger race than she did in the Just A Game," Velazquez said. "She faced a much tougher group here. She did pretty much the same thing by getting out there and setting the pace. Once I found there was no speed, I was just going to get her out there and relax her. The only concern was the distance, and she proved she could handle that, but I also thought the slow pace helped her here, too."
Sand Springs paid $6.10, $4.20, and $3.40. Que Puntual, who was coming off a win in the Nassau (Can-II) at Woodbine June 4, returned $9 and $5.50. Angara's show was $4.10.
After Film Maker came Winendynme, Delta Princess and Shadow Cast.