Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott enjoyed his 53rd birthday in grand style Saturday when the 5-year-old mare Angara got up in the final couple of strides to win the $500,000 Diana Handicap (gr. IT) on a yielding Saratoga turf course.
The Sangster Family Stable's runner was last coming off the turn with Fernando Jara in the irons, but found room between horses and caught Sweet Talker approaching the wire by a head. Sweet Talker nipped Argentina by a nose for second. The final time for the 1 1/8-mile event contested on the yielding ground was 1:49 1/5.
The victory pushed Angara over the $1 million mark in career earnings. Angara carried co-high weight of 120 pounds along with Sweet Talker.
My Typhoon, also trained by Mott, set the pace (:23 4/5, :47 4/5 and 1:12 1/5) and gave way grudgingly along the inside to finish a close fourth. Lady of Venice, the 11-10 favorite in the field of six, was in contention in the stretch but faded to fifth.
"My Typhoon was in there to win the race if she could," Mott said. "It just so happened that the other filly got there."
Angara ran third in last year's Diana, which was won by the Mott-trained Sand Springs. Angara, a soft-course specialist, won the Beverly D. (gr. IT) at Arlington last year on a yielding course and Mott said prior to the race that, had the Saratoga turf been firm, he would have scratched the British-bred daughter of Alzao. Thunderstorms have hit the Saratoga region the past two days.
"Angara was supposed to go to the Beverly D. until it rained yesterday," Mott said. "My original plan was to run Wend and My Typhoon in the Diana. Maybe we'll switch it around. Maybe Wend will go to the Beverly D. Right now, I suppose there wouldn't be a race that would suit Angara for the next 30 days."
Coming off a game second-place effort in the New York Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT) on a soft Belmont course when finishing a neck behind Noble Stella, Angara has won six of 19 in her career while banking $1,071,344.
Mott said Jara benefited by riding Angara in her last start.
"I think he probably has a little confidence in her, so he waited for the proper time to make his run, and he was able to wiggle his way through just outside the eighth pole. She came running at the end when it counted."
Sweet Talker, ridden by Ramon Dominguez, stalked My Typhoon and Cornelio Velazquez to mid-stretch before edging in front, but could not quite last to the finish line when confronted by Angara on her outside. Argentina, ridden by Edgar Prado, found a seam along the inside late and just missed.
"It's tough to be disappointed when she ran so hard," said H. Graham Motion, trainer of the runner-up. "She ran strictly on guts. I thought she ran a huge race. This race might have been longer than she wants to go against this caliber of fillies and mares, but we wanted to do this. This was a perfect opportunity for a grade 1 race."
"Once there was that opening, I thought we were home free," Prado said of Argentina. "It was a good finish, and it was close."
The second choice, Angara paid $9.60, $4.10, and $3.10. Sweet Talker returned $4.80 and $3.40. Argentina was $3.40 to show.
Trainer Patrick Biancone made no apologies for the beaten favorite Lady of Venice.
"The turf was soft, so it made the race a little harder," said Biancone, who opted to run the 3-year-old filly in the Diana rather than Friday's Lake George (gr. IIIT). "She didn't get beat far; she got beat about three-quarters (of a length). She showed she's a contender with the best older fillies."
Sabellina trailed the field.
Mott scratched Wend, expected to be one of the favorites.