Zagora won the Diana Stakes (gr. IT) in 2011, but the 5-year-old mare faces a steep challenge this time around at Saratoga Race Course as Tapitsfly, Winter Memories, Hungry Island, and two European invaders join the fray.
The $600,000 Diana, a 1 1/8-mile turf race for fillies and mares, was carded as the ninth race and has a 5:12 p.m. EDT scheduled post. MSG+ will broadcast the Diana and the $600,000 Jim Dandy (gr. II), the 10th race on the card, as part of The New York Racing Series presented by Foxwoods Resort Casino.
Last year's Diana marked the first grade I win for both Zagora and trainer Chad Brown. Since that race, the French-bred daughter of Green Tune has won three of five starts, all victories in grade III events. Last time out she rallied from last of seven to take the Gallorette Handicap (gr. IIIT) going 1 1/16 miles at Pimlico Race Course May 19. Her only failure to fire came this April when she finished fifth in the Jenny Wiley (gr. IT), a race in which Tapitsfly was third.
"She came out of the Gallorette with a popped splint, and we freshened her for a couple of weeks to fix that," said Brown. "She caught a slow pace in the Jenny Wiley, and she's 0-for-3 at Keeneland. It's not her course. Otherwise, she's been perfect this year."
The Martin Schwartz color-bearer swept Tampa Bay Downs' Endeavour (gr. IIIT) and Hillsborough (gr. IIIT) stakes in February and March, and is the 5-2 second choice on the morning line. Jockey Ramon Dominguez will ride from post 3. His assignment will not be easy as he'll have to use Zagora, a late closer, to track down Tapitsfly, the likely pacesetter.
That one blazed on the lead and rebuffed Winter Memories in the Belmont Park stretch June 9, taking the one-mile Longines Just a Game (gr. IT) by 2 1/4 lengths in brilliant stakes-record time of 1:32.34.
"Our plan for her this year was to get her to really relax and come from a little off the pace, and then we got to the Just a Game, and there was no speed, so we threw that out the window," trainer Dale Romans said. "I doubt there will be enough speed to run with her here, so she'll probably do the same thing."
Romans and owner Frank Jones Jr. have sent the 5-year-old homebred daughter of Tapit to five starts in graded company this year, and she's hit the board every time. She delivered a win in the Honey Fox Stakes (gr. IIT), a runner-up finish in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile Stakes (gr. IIT), and third-place finishes in the Jenny Wiley and Marshua's River Stakes (gr. IIIT).
"I hope that she'll relax as well as she did in the Just a Game," said Romans, who trains the mare for Frank L. Jones, Jr. Joel Rosario rides the 7-2 third choice from the rail.
Trainer Jimmy Toner fears his charge, 9-5 morning-line favorite Winter Memories, will once again have to try to track down a free-running Tapitsfly in the Diana.
"You have to give her a lot of credit," he said of Tapitsfly. "She was on the lead, nice and comfortable, and we just couldn't catch her. When they asked her, she had plenty enough to kick in. We just couldn't catch her. I don't see any pace in the race, truthfully. Unfortunately for us and fortunately for them, it could be the same scenario all over again."
The Just a Game marked Winter Memories' first loss at Belmont, the site of her victory in last September's Garden City Stakes (gr. IT). A homebred daughter of El Prado, she has won six total graded stakes races for Phillips Racing Partnership, including last summer's Lake George (gr. IIT) at the Spa. Jockey Javier Castellano has the call from post 6.
Also exiting the Just a Game is Hungry Island, an Emory A. Hamilton homebred by More Than Ready who picked up the pieces to finish third after racing farther off the pace than usual under jockey John Velazquez.
"She broke fine, but then Johnny had to ride her to get her into the race," said her Hall of Fame trainer, Shug McGaughey. "You kind of have got to get her covered up. Nobody was going to beat Tapitsfly that day as fast she ran, but I think stretching Hungry Island out is going to help her. She's going to be back (in the field), but she's got to be back the right way."
Hungry Island owns a pair of graded victories: last year's Woodford Reserve Lake Placid (gr. IIT) over Winter Memories, and the Churchill Downs Distaff Turf Mile (gr. IIT) in May at Churchill Downs. She leaves post 6 at 5-1 on the morning line with Velazquez in the irons.
The Diana will be the first start in North America for Dream Peace since she finished third, beaten a head, as the 2-1 favorite in the E. P. Taylor (Can-IT) last October at Woodbine. She raced twice this year, reporting home fourth in the Prix Allez France (Fr-III) at Chantilly in April and eighth against males in the group I Singapore Airlines International Cup at Kranji May 20. Her top victory to date came in the Prix de la Nonette (Fr-II) at Deauville last August.
Dream Peace, a daughter of Dansili trained by Robert Collet for Etreham Farm, was installed at 6-1 on the morning line. Julien Leparoux has the call from post 4.
Rounding out the field is Chris McHale's Law of the Range, a listed winner and group III-placed in England. She enters the Diana off a sixth in the Windsor Forest (Eng-II) June 20 at Royal Ascot. Rajiv Maragh rides the Alhaarth runner at odds of 15-1 from post 2.
$600,000 Diana Stakes (gr. IT, Race 9, approximate post 5:12 p.m. EDT), fillies and mares 3YO & Up, 1 1/8 miles (turf)
PP, Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, Odds
1. Tapitsfly (KY), J. Rosario, 120, D L Romans, 7-2
2. Law of the Range, R. Maragh, 118, M Botti, 15-1
3. Zagora (FR), R.A. Dominguez, 120, C C Brown, 5-2
4. Dream Peace (IRE), J.R. Leparoux, 118, R Collet, 6-1
5. Winter Memories (KY), J. Castellano, 120, J J Toner, 9-5
6. Hungry Island (KY), J.R. Velazquez, 120, C R McGaughey III, 5-1