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Diana Stakes Preview: Lady Eli Headlines Stellar Grade 1 Field

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Sheep Pond Partners’ Lady Eli will look to make a triumphant return to Saratoga Race Course as one of two entries for trainer Chad Brown in the 79th running of the Grade 1, $500,000 Diana for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up on the turf on Saturday.

The Diana, the first of 18 Grade 1s on Saratoga’s 40-day summer meet docket, will be the second of two back-to-back graded stakes on Saturday’s card, following the 103rd running of the Grade 3, $150,000 Sanford in Race 9.

Brown will bid to repeat in the Diana, following Dacita last year. Lady Eli will attempt to get her trainer back in the winner’s circle, returning to the track where she won her debut in 2014. Brown said that the 5-year-old Divine Park mare should be fresh coming off of a 1/2-length win in the Grade 1 Gamely on May 27 at Santa Anita Park.

Lady Eli has eight wins and three runner-up finishes in 11 career starts. She burst onto the scene with six straight wins to start her career, including the 2014 Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and the 2015 Grade 1 Belmont Oaks Invitational.

After a 13-month layoff to recover from laminitis, Lady Eli returned to Saratoga with a game second-place effort in the Grade 2 Ballston Spa on August 27 and sandwiched wins in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl and the Gamely around runner-up efforts in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Fillies & Mare Turf and the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley.

“She’s training super and has had adequate time between races after a long ship back from the Gamely and we’re looking forward to running her again, especially at Saratoga, where she broke her maiden and made her comeback last year,” said Brown, who also saddled Diana winner Zagora in 2011.

“In the Gamely, she adapted to a slow pace and overcame it,” he added. “It looks like there might be a slow pace in here as well. We’re confident she can place herself where we need her. She likes the track here, and the Diana is a special race for our team.”

Lady Eli, who has posted triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in five of her last six starts, drew post 3 with Irad Ortiz, Jr., aboard.

Top Choice

#3 Lady Eli – The horse that needs no introduction! Lady Eli’s story is well-known and her brilliance and longevity is amazing. She’s a Grade 1 winner at ages 2, three, 4, and 5. After a tough loss to Dickinson in the Jenny Wiley to start the year, Lady Eli rebounded to win the Gamely by a 1/2-length over a stubborn Goodyearforroses. In that race, Lady Eli showed versatility, sitting just off a hot pace while still having enough steam left to hold on late in the race. This race seems a bit pace-less, so I could see many of these just grouping together, which will make it an exciting sprint for home when making the turn!

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#6 Dickinson – This mare went on a three-race winning streak during the winter/spring months, culminating in a win over Lady Eli in the Jenny Wiley at Keeneland in April. Last time out, she tried to make it two Grade 1 wins in a row in the Just a Game Stakes, coming up just 3/4 of a length short while finishing third. There’s no doubt that she’ll be a major threat once again, but I do think that Lady Eli will get revenge on her in this spot. The last time they faced each other, Lady Eli was starting off a layoff, while Dickinson was in solid form.

#2 Antonoe – So far, so good for this French import, who’s 2-for-2 in the United States for the great Chad Brown. Last time out in the Just a Game, she made an absolutely fantastic move in the stretch to blow past the field up the inside by 3/4 of a length. That race certainly was an eye-opener, and now, she’ll look for back-to-back Grade 1 triumphs. However, now she’ll have to match up with Lady Eli, so we’re going to find out quickly who is the best female turf horse in the Brown barn. It could be a very entraining stretch run.

Exotic Plays

#1 Harmonize – She seems to be the very logical candidate to run underneath and round out the trifecta or superfecta. Certainly a classy individual, this horse has put in very solid efforts this year. She might have a bit of trouble matching up with the top few in here. Even though she ran better last time out in the Just a Game, she was still defeated by Antonoe and Dickinson.

Party Crashers

#4 Quidura – Arriving in the United States last year and impressively picked up two wins (including a Grade 3 at Keeneland in October,) she kicked off this year in the Jenny Wiley, where she was narrowly beaten by Dickinson and Lady Eli while finishing third. Last time out, she made a start in the Grade 2 New York Stakes, where she finished second to lone-on-the-lead winner Hawksmoor. This makes her dangerous today at a price that might be enticing.

Throw Outs

#5 My Impression – This is a star-studded field, so it’s not like I don’t like this horse at all, but this race looks to be a little too tough for her today. Stars such as Lady Eli, Antonoe, Dickinson, and Harmonize will be very tough for this horse to handle.

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