Diana and Million Preview Picks as Saratoga, Colonial Open (2024)

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By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

The summer racing season isheating up on the East Coast. Saratoga and Colonial Downs are opening forbusiness this Thursday, and both have stakes races on their Saturday agendas.

The $500,000 Diana (G1) isthe feature event at Saratoga, while the $125,000 Million Preview S. leads theColonial Downs slate. Let's give both races a look:

Diana (G1) at Saratoga

A stellar field of filliesand mares will race 1 1/8 miles over the inner turf course in the Diana. Nineof the ten entrants in the main body of the field are graded stakes winners,and four of them are Grade 1 winners.

I anticipate #10 Chili Flag will start as thefavorite for trainer Chad Brown, who has won seven of the last eight editionsof this race. The five-year-old mare has come to hand impressively in recentstarts, rattling off three straight graded wins in stretch-running style.First, she closed from out of the clouds to take the Honey Fox (G3) by a neckover Walkathon, who recently won the Anchorage S. at Churchill Downs. ThenChili Flag got up to win the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G2) by a neck.Finally, she unleashed a terrific homestretch surge to win the Just a Game (G1)here at Saratoga by half a length over 2023 Diana winner #6 Whitebeam.

According to the EquibaseGPS chart, Chili Flag ran the final quarter-mile of the Just a Game in anexcellent :22.12. She's a logical Diana win threat, but there may be somechinks in her armor. For starters, she's marooned in post 10 and risks a widetrip in this large field. For another, she's stretching out from one mile to 11/8 miles, a distance over which she's yet to win. And she's meeting a fieldwithout a ton of pace on paper, which could make it harder to catch up.

For all these reasons, I'mgoing to side with #4 Didia tospring a mild upset. On the same day that Chili Flag won the Just a Game, Didiaconquered a strong field in the 1 3/16-mile New York (G1). In a 13-horse field,Didia raced in fourth place early on behind solid fractions of :23.18, :47.74,and 1:11.92 (significantly quicker than in the Just a Game) before surging herfinal quarter-mile in :22.60 per the GPS chart to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

Didia's finishing speed wasimpressive given the longer distance of the New York compared to the Just aGame, not to mention the quicker pace. Racing 1 1/8 miles against a modest pacein the Diana should give Didia a tactical advantage over Chili Flag. Certainlythat was the case in the 1 1/16-mile Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf(G2) back in January; on that occasion, Didia vied for command through modestsplits of :24.88, :48.62, and 1:12.01 before accelerating strongly to win by aneck. Finishing in sixth place—compromised by the pace and unable to gain sufficientground down the lane—was Chili Flag.

So there you have it. If #9 Evvie Jets and Whitebeam vie forearly supremacy, I envision Didia slotting in behind them, tracking the pace inthird or fourth position. Assuming the tempo is modest, Didia can take firstrun at the leaders and outkick Chili Flag down the Saratoga homestretch.

Million Preview S. at Colonial Downs

I won't try to beat thefavorite in the Million Preview, a 1 1/8-mile steppingstone to the ArlingtonMillion (G1). #4 Integration simply lookstoo tough while dropping in class.

I don't believe Integrationhas gotten a fair chance to win any of his three starts this year. In thePegasus World Cup Turf (G1), he didn't get the clearest run while finishingfifth by 1 3/4 lengths against a deep field. In the Maker's Mark Mile (G1), hewas compromised by settling behind a slow pace over a yielding turf course hepossibly didn't care for; even still he rallied for third place againstBreeders' Cup Mile (G1) winner Master of The Seas. Another wet course cameIntegration's way in the Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic (G1), where he racedbehind a slow pace before closing ground to finish fourth by 2 1/4 lengths.

Hopefully Integrationcatches a firm turf course for the Million Preview, though the early weatherforecast suggests that's an iffy proposition. But regardless, dropping in classshould be sufficient to yield victory. Integration went 2-for-2 at ColonialDowns last year, trouncing a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight before takingthe 1 1/8-mile Virginia Derby (G3) over eventual three-time Grade 1 winner ProgramTrading. For good measure, Integration ended the year with a five-length scorein the 1 1/8-mile Hill Prince (G2) at Aqueduct, where he ran his final furlongin a terrific :10.85 to beat future Pegasus World Cup Turf runner-up I'm VeryBusy.

I still believe Integrationhas the talent to be a serious middle-distance turf horse, and I'm optimistiche'll get back to his winning ways in the Million Preview.

Now it's your turn! Who do youlike this week?

*****

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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. fa*ger to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite.

Diana and Million Preview Picks as Saratoga, Colonial Open (2024)

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