One mare seeks her third consecutive grade I win and looks to establish her position at the top of the class. Another one tries to defend her title while attempting to recover her championship form. A third former Breeders’ Cup winner goes for her first grade I victory. And the rest of the field is not too shabby either.
That is the way things have come together for a stellar edition of the $500,000 Diana Stakes (gr. IT) July 31 at Saratoga. The nine-furlong turf race drew a field of seven and along with the Jim Dandy (gr. II) for 3-year-olds, headlines the 11-race program.
Juddmonte Farms’ Proviso has notched consecutive grade I wins in the Frank Kilroe Handicap and Just a Game Stakes, both at one mile. Not only will she face 2008 champion Forever Together, who won this event the last two years, but must also deal with Maram, the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner from 2008 who looks to be back on top of her game, and a pair of foes that she narrowly beat last out in the Just a Game—Phola and My Princess Jess. For good measure, Shared Account, a grade III winner in her last start, and Dynaslew have joined the fray.
Proviso, a 5-year-old daughter of Dansili, has been brilliant since shipping to the United States from Europe last fall. Had she not been disqualified from a victory in the 2009 Spinster (gr. I), she would have three grade I wins in five starts. The bay mare also missed by about a length in the Santa Monica Handicap (gr. IT) in January.
An earner of more than $1.1 million from 20 starts, Proviso is trained by Bill Mott. She will carry top weight of 123 pounds, including Mike Smith. They will break from post 1.
“She was sitting second the last time, and she could be in that spot once again,” said Mott. “Of course, each race is a little different. It’s a competitive field.”
In the Just a Game, Proviso defeated Phola by a half-length and it was another neck back to My Princess Jess. Phola, a 4-year-old Johannesburg filly trained by Todd Pletcher, scored in the Hillsborough (gr. IIIT) at Tampa Bay Downs in March and the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (gr. IIT) in May during a three-race win streak to begin her season.
“I thought she ran a big race,” said Pletcher of Phola’s Just a Game performance. “She was probably affected more than anyone by the slow fractions. I think Proviso is clearly the filly to beat, but we hope with a little more pace that we might be able to turn the tables.”
Augustin Stable’s Forever Together recorded her last win in the 2009 Diana, where she prevailed by a head. Since then the daughter of Belong to Me has been a bit unlucky, finishing runner-up three times and third twice more. This season, the 5-year-old missed by a half-length in the Jenny Wiley (gr. IIT) at Keeneland in April, and missed again by that distance last out in the May 29 Gamely (gr. IT) at Hollywood Park.
A four-time grade I winner including the 2008 Diana and the Emirates Airlines Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) during her championship season, Forever Together has earned nearly $2.9 million from 22 starts. She will attempt to become the first horse to win the Diana three straight years. Trainer Jonathan Sheppard has assigned Julien Leparoux to ride.
“She’s consistently been running in grade I races and the occasional grade II,” said Sheppard of the 5-2 morning-line favorite. “If you wanted to be harsh, you could criticize her for not having enough punch, but I don’t think that’s the case. She’s been the victim of paceless races.”
Maram won the first four starts of her career, including a pair of victories at Saratoga and the inaugural BC Juvenile Fillies Turf at Santa Anita. After a lengthy layoff to begin her 3-year-old season in 2009, she won one of three starts. In two starts this year, both at Monmouth Park, she missed by a nose in the Eatontown (gr. IIIT) and won the Miss Liberty Stakes on July 4. Chad Brown will give a leg up to Jose Lezcano.
$500,000 Diana (gr. IT, Race 9, 5:14 p.m.), Fillies and Mares, 1 1/8 Miles (Turf) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Proviso (GB), M E Smith, 123, W I Mott
2. My Princess Jess (FL), C H Velasquez, 118, B Tagg
3. Phola (KY), R A Dominguez, 120, T A Pletcher
4. Forever Together (KY), J R Leparoux, 120, J E Sheppard
5. Dynaslew (FL), E Coa, 118, S Benzel
6. Shared Account (KY), E S Prado, 118, H G Motion
7. Maram (KY), J Lezcano, 118, C C Brown