March 18, 2019

Sistercharlie averts Ultra Brat upset in Diana

Sistercharlie wins the Diana Stakes (G1) under jockey John Velazquez at Saratoga on July 21, 2018 (c) NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photography

Trainer Chad Brown is getting accustomed to coming out on top of thrillers in the $500,000 Diana (G1) at Saratoga. After narrowly winning the past two editions with Lady Eli (2017) and Dacita (2016), his three-peat in Saturday’s renewal was similarly suspenseful. Brown appeared to have the Diana surrounded with a formidable trio led by Peter M. Brant’s Sistercharlie, but the even-money favorite had to pull out all the stops to thwart Graham Motion’s 15-1 shot Ultra Brat on the line.

Motion was entitled to feel an unwelcome sense of déjà vu, for last summer, it was his Quidura who suffered a tough beat at the hands of Lady Eli. And two years ago, his favored Miss Temple City was forced to wait for room at a crucial juncture and finished fourth in a four-way photo. Motion’s had other placings here too, including close calls with Sweet Talker (2006) and Shared Account (2010) and another runner-up in Aruna (beaten by the first of Brown’s four Diana winners, Zagora, in 2011). If the Diana has been a luckless race so far for Motion, surely his turn will come.

Sistercharlie, a sharp winner of the April 14 Jenny Wiley (G1) in her Keeneland comeback, had a sob story of her own last time out in the New York S. (G2) on day two of the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival. After a problematic start and racing far off the pace set by a tearaway leader, she got going too late and missed by a head to stablemate Fourstar Crook – whom she’d dismissed in the Jenny Wiley. The Diana nearly ended on the same note.

When the gate opened, stablemate and 5-2 second choice A Raving Beauty broke on top and angled over, but was only too happy to yield to front runner Hawksmoor. While Ultra Brat set up shop in a stalking second, A Raving Beauty for some reason eased a few lengths farther back. That left Ultra Brat in the catbird’s seat as Hawksmoor carved out fractions of :24.25, :47.77, and 1:11.62 on the firm Mellon turf.

Sistercharlie was unhurried in the latter part of the field early, but Hall of Famer John Velazquez began to stoke her up entering the far turn. Although the European import had to take the overland route, she steadily gathered steam into the stretch.

The same couldn’t be said for A Raving Beauty. Cruising up behind the leader with designs on sneaking through, she found the door slammed in her face, and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. had to slam on the brakes. A Raving Beauty showed a commendable attitude to regroup and come again, but the race had already gotten away from her.

Ultra Brat played her hand, overtaking Hawksmoor, and Sistercharlie entered the fray wider out. But the favorite had work to do. Ultra Brat clung on with the single-minded tenacity of a terrier, Sistercharlie did not appear to be gaining much traction, and an upset was brewing at the Spa.

Or so you might have thought, until the final yards. Sistercharlie suddenly leveled off, summoned one last lunge, and got up by a nose on the wire. The 122-pound co-highweight, who was spotting four pounds to Ultra Brat (and covering 15 more feet according to Trakus), clocked 1 1/8 miles in 1:46.26.

A Raving Beauty reported home another three-quarters of a length back in third, a meritorious effort considering her trouble. Hawksmoor was only a half-length astern in fourth, clear of Proctor’s Ledge, who was experiencing her first loss at Saratoga. The third of Brown’s trio, New Money Honey, was a lackluster sixth, beating only the 47-1 longshot War Canoe.

Sistercharlie’s scorecard stands at 9-5-3-0, and the $275,000 winner’s check moved her up to millionaires’ row with $1,126,254 in earnings. Originally trained by Henri-Alex Pantall in France, the daughter of Myboycharlie captured last spring’s Prix Penelope (G3) on the way to an unlucky second in the Prix de Diane (French Oaks) (G1). Her stateside debut came in the Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1), where she missed by a neck to New Money Honey. Sistercharlie subsequently came down with a lung infection that knocked her out for the rest of the year, but she’s fulfilling her early promise now.

Brown indicated that a trip to Chicago for the Beverly D. (G1) on Arlington Million Day, August 11, is on the agenda. Sire Myboycharlie is already responsible for a Beverly D. winner, Euro Charline (2014).

Out of the Galileo mare Starlet’s Sister (a full sibling to Group 3 vixen Leo’s Starlet), Sistercharlie is herself a half-sister to current French Group performer My Sister Nat, runner-up by a nose in the July 9 Prix Chloe (G3). She was bred in Ireland by Ecurie des Monceaux, also in the headlines of late as the co-breeder of Ribblesdale (G2) winner Magic Wand (fifth as the favorite in Saturday’s Irish Oaks [G1]) and breeder of July 8 Prix Jean Prat (G1) hero Intellogent.

Quotes from NYRA

Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez: “Going to the three-eighths pole, I went to go around Javier (Castellano on New Money Honey) and he went out so I had to travel a little bit wider from the five-sixteenths pole to the quarter-pole. It cost me a little bit down the lane to get her back into rhythm. She switched leads late but when she final did, she gave me that spurt down the lane to get down there in time. She’s a very good filly. She just has to put it together at the start and break better, but she’s definitely talented.”

Trainer Chad Brown: “In midstretch, I was worried that she wouldn’t get there, especially when she didn’t want to get her correct lead in the lane. When Johnny finally got her there, I could see her surging. It was a matter of being on the right side of that photo. Luckily, she got there.

“She broke better than her last start. She ran a cleaner race at a shorter distance and got up in time. It’s frustrating that she’ll put herself in that position early, but that’s her. Even before she arrived to my barn, that was her running style – coming from behind.

“She has a lot of heart and a lot of class. This isn’t her ideal distance, nor was the mile and a sixteenth in the Jenny Wiley. But just with sheer class, heart and ability, she can do it.”