By Bob Ehalt
Goooo-ood afternoon, Saratoga.
The long wait since Labor Day comes to an end on Friday when Saratoga raises the curtain on its 155th season filled with 40 simply spectacular days of racing in upstate New York.
There will be 69 stakes with a combined value of 18.8 million and the action will begin in the blink of an eye.
The first Grade 1 stakes of the meet will be contested on Saturday in the form of the $500,000 Diana for fillies and mares on the turf.
In essence, though, the stakes should be called the Chad as premier turf trainer Chad Brown has a hammerlock on the field of seven with a trio of Grade 1 winners in Sistercharlie (9-5 morning line), A Raving Beauty (2-1) and New Money Honey (8-1).
Sistercharlie, owned by Greenwich’s Peter Brant, has been no worse than second in three starts in the United States. The Irish-bred daughter of Myboycharlie who started her career in France is coming off a head loss in the Grade 2 New York Stakes at Belmont Park but won the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley at Keeneland in her 2018 debut.
“She was able to shorten up all the way to a mile-and-a-sixteenth in the Jenny Wiley and ran quite well last time,” Brown said. “She just didn’t get a good trip. She got away from the gate slow and ran into a little traffic at the rear of the field. She got a very late start to her run and just missed. I think she ran a really good race. All three of her races have been outstanding for us. Hopefully, she can get away from the gate a little better this time and get some position. There appears to be a little more pace in this race.”
Last year, in her first U.S. start, Sistercharlie was second behind New Money Honey in the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks.
A Raving Beauty also started her career in Europe and is a perfect 2-for-2 since shipping across the Atlantic Ocean and moving to Brown’s formidable barn. The 5-year-old mare posted a three-length win in the Grade 3 Beaugay at Belmont Park in her debut for the new connections and then prevailed by a little less than a length in the Grade 1 Just A Game on the Belmont Stakes undercard.
New Money Honey tailed off after winning the Belmont Oaks, losing her last three races of 2017. Yet in her 2018 debut, she returned to the winner’s circle with a neck victory in a June 21 allowance race at Belmont Park.
The field also includes Proctor’s Ledge (4-1), who was second in the Just A Game, War Canoe (50-1), Ultra Brat (8-1) and Hawksmoor (6-1).
Saturday’s 11-race card also includes the Grade 3 $150,000 Sanford Stakes for 2-year-olds.
Sombeyay, who was second in the Tremont Stakes, is the 2-1 favorite.
Sunday’s card features the Grade 1 $300,000 Coaching Club American Oaks at a mile-and-an-eighth, which looms as a battle between the top 3-year-old fillies Monomoy Girl, the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks winner, and Mother Goose victor Midnight Bisou.