The Diana (G1), as is true of most Saratoga stakes races, has a great history and a stellar list of winners.
I have seen several of them live. The great Shuvee won the Diana back-to-back in 1970 and ‘71. I was there for both.
It is hard to imagine with today’s format, but, in 1982, I saw them split the race and run it in two divisions. Jockey Eric Beita, who was tragically murdered by someone he offered a lift to while driving back from riding out of town a few years afterwards, won both split divisions with If Winter Comes and Hush Dear.
I saw Glowing Tribute win it and her foal, Wild Applause, win it too. I saw another foal of Glowing Tribute win it two years straight when Glowing Honor took it in 1988 and 1989.
Waya, Pearl Necklace, Just a Game, De La Rose, Memories of Silver, Heritage of Gold, Perfect Sting, Tates Creek and so many other greats have won the Diana.
The game has changed and evolved a lot since those races I was fortunate to witness. To be successful in today’s game we also have to adapt to the changes.
This year, we have a seven-horse field with three of the seven entrants trained by Chad Brown. We see more and more of this today and it poses a new and unique challenge to bettors. Back in the day, these horses would have been coupled. While that shortens the field and betting interests, it also erases the dilemma of trying to figure out which horse the barn likes and is pulling for.
Nevertheless, we have to play the hand we are dealt, so I will talk about how I approach wagering on a race like this year’s Diana, which has a relatively small field, an iffy pace scenario and almost half the field coming out of the same barn.
On Saturday the pools will be big. It is the first Saturday of the 2018 Saratoga meet and enthusiasm will be high. The Diana is the next-to-last leg in the pick-4, pick-5 and pick-6.
It is probably not a race I would play alone. I think my play would be to attack it in a multi-race sequence. The stand-alone value in the race will not equal the value of it in a multi-race play. The simple reason is there are a few horses who can win and they all will take their share of money. If you like to take a stand as I do in any multi-race bet, I think the Diana is a perfect race to do it in. Of course, as always, you just have to be right, but I think this is the spot to take your stand.
Because a lot of people will spread and use a few of the horses, you can create more separation if you use one more horse here than you normally can with a horse maybe 5-2 or up to, say, 4-1 or 5-1. With the other races having larger fields, I think that is the way to go.
I’ll ignore the fact three of the seven are from the same barn and go by my handicapping and my eyes. While there are times you can spot a “tell” from a trainer, I don’t see one here, so I won’t try and guess which is the preferred entry.
Besides, insiders can be wrong too.
New Money Honey, Ultra Brat, and Hawksmoor are all capable of showing some early speed here. Whether they all do is anyone’s guess, as we see more and more grass races where everyone decides to sit back off of slow fractions.
Click HERE for the latest odds on the Diana Stakes
This is why I lean towards A Raving Beauty in a race where I think you can make a case for six out of the seven runners. A Raving Beauty really stepped up her game since coming stateside and moving to Chad Brown’s barn and going on Lasix. She was good in Europe, but she has been really good since coming here — and I think we may see her best effort yet. I like the fact she will be close enough to the pace — or should be anyway — to reel in the speed and get the jump on the closers, especially her more highly regarded stablemate, Sistercharlie.
Sistercharlie is talented, but probably wants more distance and is more pace dependent. She will likely be the favorite and I think A Raving Beauty may be just as good.
Proctor’s Ledge is 2-for-2 at Saratoga and that is an important consideration. If any of the potential speeds get loose, they obviously become dangerous, especially on a fresh and probably hard turf course.
But I think A Raving Beauty keeps everyone in sight.
Not to be redundant, but since this race is so competitive, I will take my single here and try and get some separation in the multi-race wagers and have some leverage in the other legs. Like I have said, you just have to be right.
For more on Saratoga, Del Mar and the Sport of Kings from Jonathan Stettin, Kaitlin Free, and Nick D’Agostino, you can visit Past the Wire.
Jonathan has always had a deep love and respect for the Sport of Kings, as he practically grew up at the racetrack. His mother, affectionately known as “Ginger,” was in the stands at Belmont Park the day before he was born as his father, Joe, worked behind the windows as a pari-mutuel clerk.
As a toddler, Jonathan cheered for and followed horses and jockeys, knowing many of the names and bloodlines by the time he was in first grade. Morning coffee in his household was always accompanied by the Daily Racing Form or Morning Telegraph.
At the age of 16, Jonathan dropped out of school and has pretty much been at the races full-time ever since. Of course, he had some of the usual childhood racetrack jobs growing up — mucking stalls, walking hots and rubbing horses. He even enjoyed brief stints as a jockey agent and a mutuel clerk (like his dad).
His best day at the track came on August 10, 1994 at Saratoga, when he hit the pick-6 paying $540,367.
Jonathan continues to be an active and successful player. You can follow him on Twitter @jonathanstettin or visit his website at www.pastthewire.com.