Speedway Stable's Hard Not to Like came flying late and secured her second consecutive grade I victory July 25, edging out Tepin in the final strides of the $500,000 TVG Diana Stakes (gr. IT) at Saratoga Race Course while setting a turf course record.
The 6-year-old daughter of Hard Spun came off a victory in the May 25 Gamely Stakes (gr. IT) at Santa Anita Park to win the 1 1/8-mile turf event in New York, finishing in a sparkling 1:45.22 on firm turf under Hall of Famer John Velazquez. She was the 123-pound topweight in a field of seven.
"I'm delighted she was ridden by Johnny Velazquez. He's a top jockey, and there's a reason why. He makes a difference," trainer Christophe Clement said. "She got a superb ride and she's also a very good filly."
Kitten's Queen showed the way from the start into the stretch of the Diana, setting opening fractions of :23.54 and :47.20 while shadowed by Tepin and My Miss Sophia. There was a large gap of 6 1/2 lengths back to the next runner; eventual winner Hard Not to Like, who was still well back as 26-1 Kitten's Queen stepped up the pace for three-quarters in 1:10.15.
Swinging round the turn for home, Tepin made her move on the leader, but Hard Not to Like was getting into gear and swinging out from her ground-saving rail spot. Still with six lengths to make up on the front three as a mile went in 1:33.20, the gray racemare quickened like a flash and was up just in time to get the win by a nose.
"(At the eighth pole, I thought my chances) to get a place, pretty good; to win, slim," Clement said. "The last 50 yards suddenly I got a bit excited because I thought, 'She's going to get there!' Remarkable ride from Johnny Velazquez. Life is good. We knew there was going to be a decent amount of pace. The ground is firm, and they never came back. They went fast all the way to the end."
Hard Not to Like returned $14.40, $5.90, and $4.70 at odds of 6-1. Tepin was second ($4.20, $3.20), a neck over pacesetter Kitten's Queen ($7.50).
Mark Casse, trainer of Tepin, was pleased with his runner's effort despite the tough beat. "It's a heartbreaker," he remarked. "We've lost three or four grade I's this year by a nose. All I have to say is that she can run a mile and a eighth. All I've heard for the last two days is that she can't go a mile and an eighth. She can go a mile and an eighth."
"This horse is much better now and is only improving," Velazquez said of the winner. "As the distance of the races got longer the better (she) became. The horse is a little small and doesn't have the speed to stay with the other horses in the first part of the race. The longer the race went on, the longer (her) strides became."
Hard Not to Like was bred in Ontario by Garland E. Williamson out of the Tactical Cat mare Like a Gem, and was purchased by her current connections for $1.5 million from consignor Michael C. Byrne at the 2014 Keeneland November breeding stock sale. She has raced for them four times since then, all this year, including her two back-to-back grade I wins.
Previously, Hard Not to Like ran for her breeder's Hillsbrook Farms, taking the 2014 Jenny Wiley Stakes (gr. IT) at Keeneland as her most noteworthy victory in his silks. The Diana improved her resume to an 8-3-2 record from 20 starts, three of them grade I events, worth overall earnings of $1,261,671.