Nobody ruled the Saratoga turf like Sistercharlie, the heavy favorite for Sataurday’s $2 million Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf. She takes on 11 foes Saturday, while riding a winning streak of six Grade 1 stakes dating to July 2018. In that span, she won Saratoga’s Grade 1 Diana in 2018 and 2019 while also taking the Beverly D. twice, the 2018 Filly and Mare Turf and the 2019 Flower Bowl.
This summer, she prevailed over three other Chad Brown trainees, scoring by 1 3/4 lengths in the 1 1/8-mile test. She's 8-5 on Saturday’s morning line against == foes including fellow Saratoga graded stakes winner Mrs. Sippy. The Special covered both horses.
Doubles Partner. Sistercharlie repeats in Grade 1 Diana. Written for the July 14 Saratoga Special by Tom Law.
The task that faced the two would-be upsetters of Chad Brown’s four-cornered entry in Saturday’s Diana Stakes looked difficult at best.
One corner contained a champion and Breeders’ Cup winner in Sistercharlie. Another featured a Breeders’ Cup winner in the once-beaten Rushing Fall. Still another held Homerique, not quite the class of the two above but still unbeaten in two U.S. starts in graded stakes. Finally came Thais, a speedy stakes-placed mare entered to keep the pace honest in the $500,000 stakes.
Did someone say tall order?
The presence of that quartet in the opening Grade 1 stakes of the 2019 Saratoga Race Course meeting proved too much as Brown swept the trifecta with Sistercharlie defending her title with a 1 3/4 length victory over Rushing Fall with Homerique another neck back in third. Secret Message and Mitchell Road, the two in the field that did not go to Brown’s Horse Haven barn on the Oklahoma Training Track Saturday night, finished fourth and fifth with only the tired pacesetter behind them.
“We knew going into the race we had the top three choices, but then for all of them to run the way they did and finish 1-2-3 is remarkable,” said Brown, who won his fourth consecutive Diana and fifth overall. “It’s unfortunate any one of them had to lose. They all ran winning races, but that’s why we ran them. We wanted to settle it on the track.”
Sistercharlie settled it off an eight-month layoff. She defeated Rushing Fall, the beneficiary of two starts and perhaps a touch more tactical speed than her Eclipse Award-winning stablemate, under Hall of Famer John Velazquez. He’s the only rider to sit on her back in the afternoon since owner Peter Brant sent the now 5-year-old Irish-bred mare to the U.S. in the summer of 2017.
Velazquez never let Rushing Fall get too far away over the Diana’s 9 furlongs on the inner turf and matched every move Javier Castellano made. Rushing Fall led in midstretch before Sistercharlie and Velazquez ran past inside the sixteenth pole to win in 1:47.93. Sistercharlie won last year in 1:46.26 on firmer ground, one of four wins on the season that included the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf in November at Churchill Downs.
Sistercharlie hadn’t raced since the Breeders’ Cup, missing the chance to prep for her Saratoga return or her defense of the Grade 1 Beverly D. after a winter illness forced her to miss some training.
Brant, who also owns Homerique and Thais, wiped a few beads of sweat running down his face, stayed glued to the replay of the race after the post-race presentations and marveled at his winning mare’s ability to come off a long layoff at the top level. He even drew on a comparison to a European star some consider the world’s best Thoroughbred in training.
“We had no choice with Sistercharlie because there was no allowance race we could put her in, we had to start her in a stake,” he said. “We thought ‘OK, good training will cover that.’ They did it with Enable. John Gosden did a great job getting her there (and winning last week’s Group 1 Coral-Eclipse after not running since the Breeders’ Cup). We had no other choice but to run her.
“If she would have been on her schedule we probably just would have run Homerique in this race. But we had to start Sistercharlie, to get her ready for the fall. She’s always run well fresh and she’s run well not fresh. A lot of people in France said she just likes a firm track but here she showed (she can handle good ground)… she’s very special.”
Thais gets an assist – or hopefully a few extra pats once she returned to Barn 60 – for doing her part. Manny Franco sent her to the front from the start and they were joined by an eager Mitchell Road past the stands the first time and to the quarter in :22.10. Mitchell Road settled around the turn while Thais opened 4 lengths past the half in :45.90.
Thais still led by 3 through 6 furlongs in 1:11.51 while Castellano, Velazquez and Irad Ortiz Jr., aboard Homerique, readied their mounts for the part of the race that mattered most.
Castellano went first on Rushing Fall, coming alongside Mitchell Road while being fanned out turning for home. Rushing Fall led inside the eighth pole and the mile in 1:36.01. Sistercharlie, pushed wider coming into the lane, collared her stablemate in the stretch and after they ran together for a few strides stuck her neck in front under Velazquez’s urging.
“Javier’s horse was the one to beat in my eyes and once I was behind him and relaxed where I thought was in a good position, I bided my time a little bit,” Velazquez said. “By the three-eighths pole, it was time to go, and I know she takes a bit to get going, so I’d rather go wide and get her going than to stay behind the other horses and not get there.”
Sistercharlie, who improved to 8-for-12 and padded her bankroll to $2,850,603, extended her advantage as the wire loomed. Homerique made steady progress through the lane and just missed the runner-up spot.
Brown said return to Arlington Park would be likely for Sistercharlie and thanks to the reconfigured Saratoga schedule she’ll get an extra week between the Diana and Arlington Million. She completed the double last year in three weeks. He said Rushing Fall and Homerique could join the champ there, too. Toss in Thais – who set the pace last year and hung on to finish a close third – and the opposition will again face a tough task.
New View. Mrs. Sippy rolls in Grade 2 Glens Falls. Written for the Sept. 1 Saratoga Special by Tom Law.
Joel Rosario walked through the din of the clubhouse, past the selfie seekers, autograph askers and backslappers before reaching the daylight and red striped walkway back to the jock’s room after Saturday’s Grade 2 Glens Falls Stakes.
He’s walked that walk thousands of times, more than 200 at the 2019 Saratoga meet. He knew the drill. Smile, pose, sign, shake, give away goggles, make the kids happy and appease the hangers-on.
And then came the walk a shade past 5:30 Saturday afternoon.
“Can you trade some goggles for an apple for your horse?” said the first youngster to meet Rosario on the walkway. The kid held a Granny Smith, twice the size of his hand if he made a fist, and smiled.
“An apple?” Rosario asked, without really needing an answer. “Sure. Thank you.”
Rosario held the shiny green fruit in his palm, grinned and pulled off a set of black-tinted goggles from his helmet and followed through on the hasty transaction.
After a comment that the swap seemed like a great deal, Rosario agreed.
“I’d take it every day,” he said.
Rosario earned the apple – which actually goes to Andrew Stone’s homebred filly Mrs. Sippy if she’s not already on the way back to Fair Hill today – after winning the 1 3/8-mile Glens Falls with a meet- and career-defining ride. Making her U.S. debut in the lead-up event to the Woodward after trainer Graham Motion couldn’t get her in the allowance race all week, Mrs. Sippy broke a beat slow.
Motion watched via simulcast from Colonial Downs, where he sent out eight runners on the Virginia Derby card and won the Grade 3 headliner with English Bee. Motion didn’t worry much when Mrs. Sippy, a 4-year-old daughter of Blame spotted the field about 2 lengths a few jumps out of the gate. Rosario didn’t panic, either, a signature of the veteran rider when he’s on top of his game. He let the European stakes winner find her footing on the firm inner course while defending champ Lady Montdore led the field of seven fillies and mares around the first turn and past the stands the first time.
“Typical European, she broke a step slow first time over here,” Motion said. “They always do. It’s so different.”
Motion’s other entry in the race, last-out optional winner Empressof The Nile, stayed close to Lady Montdore’s early pace through the homestretch the first time and raced third behind that foe and Fools Gold to her outside.
Shortly after a half-mile in :49.80 Mrs. Sippy pulled Rosario up the inside along the hedge. They wound up fourth by the midpoint of the second bend, behind Lady Montdore, Fools Gold and Empressof The Nile and just to the inside of Canadian shipper Get Explicit and Violet Blue with 8-5 favorite Santa Monica out the back.
Mrs. Sippy lost a few spots almost as quick as she gained them by the time the field hit the backstretch the final time and were fifth through 6 furlongs in 1:15.13. Another hole opened up between the leader and immediate chasers at the end of the backstretch and Mrs. Sippy tried to go through again, only to be slightly shut off by Lady Montdore entering the far turn.
Santa Monica and Jose Ortiz avoided any trouble to the turn and circled the field to take the lead approaching the homestretch. They didn’t hold the turn tight, Lady Montdore tried to re-break and Mrs. Sippy slipped past the tiring Fools Gold and just to the outside of the early leader.
Mrs. Sippy drove through Santa Monica and Lady Montdore and accelerated making the lead at the eighth pole. They widened the margin from there while stablemate Empressof The Nile made a late run to finish three-quarters of a length back in second. Mrs. Sippy won in 2:13.62.
“She broke a little bit slow and then after that it was all her,” Rosario said. “It looked like she just wanted to follow somebody the whole time. I just thought that’s the way she’s probably used to running in Europe. She did well for her first time here.”
Mrs. Sippy improved to 3-for-10 with the Glens Falls victory, her first win in almost a year after taking a small stakes at Longchamp last September.
Bred in Kentucky, Mrs. Sippy is the first foal out of the Encosta de Lago mare Qushchi, who also started her career in Europe before coming to the U.S. and winning a stakes for Motion. She won the 2013 Waya Stakes before a fourth in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl Invitational at Belmont Park and a 10th in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Santa Anita Park to end her career.
Mrs. Sippy won one of two starts at 2 before a productive season at 3 with trainer David Simcock. She never finished worse than fourth in five starts in 2018, including three group stakes, before going off form in her lone two outings this spring.
Mrs. Sippy arrived at Fair Hill in July off back-to-back double-digit-length losses in group stakes in England.
“She was really straightforward, a little nervous at first but once she settled into the routine she was fine,” Motion said. “I find that some of these European horses like the routine of going to the track. It’s straightforward for them and some of them settle down during that.
“I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I know they were very high on her last year and were disappointed with how she came out this year. Andrew Stone has sent me horses before and he’s very clever about the ones he’s picked to come over here. He felt like she needed a change of pace, she needed a change of scenery. She was really good last year and she had been disappointing so far this year. So he felt she needed a change of scenery and so far it looks like it paid off.”