Brown has four shots at another Diana, led by undefeated Bleecker Street

PHOTOGRAPHER:

Bleecker Street schools in the Saratoga paddock on Friday morning in preparation for Saturday’s Grade I Diana.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Trainer Chad Brown is so dominant in the Grade I Diana that he even gets horses who didn’t look like they were meant for races like this into the Diana.

And not just into the field, but into the role of favorite.

That’s the case with Bleecker Street, who has left her dirt pedigree behind in a cloud of stardust during her meteoric rise to the top — almost — of the filly and mare turf division this year.

Her stablemate Regal Glory, who is scheduled to race against males in the Fourstardave later in the meet, still holds  the top spot, but Bleecker Street has been rising quickly and remains undefeated from seven career starts heading into Saturday’s feature at Saratoga Race Course.

She’s the 6-5 morning-line favorite in a Diana field of six that typically is heavy on Brown horses, and this year is no different. Brown, who has won the Diana six times since 2011 and five years in a row from 2016-20, will also saddle Rougir, Technical Analysis and In Italian.

Brown said he thought at first that Bleecker Street would be a solid dirt horse, but an experiment racing her on the turf has led to a seven-race winning streak that includes four straight graded stakes in 2022, most recently the Grade I New York at Belmont Park on Belmont Stakes weekend in June.

“When we bought the horse, we really thought she was a dirt horse, and it really surprised me that she was training average on it,” Brown said on Wednesday morning. “Normally, I get a better handle on what surface they’re going to eventually be on, right from when they first come in the barn.

“So we tested her out on the turf. Hopeful. Curious. And she ran super the first time.”

That was on Aug. 21 of 2021, when Bleecker Street broke her maiden first time out at Monmouth Park, while the Saratoga meet was in full swing. In fact, Technical Analysis was at the Spa that day, winning the Grade II Lake Placid, while Rougir was at Deauville in France, finishing third in a Group 2 stakes.

Brown sent Bleecker Street to Meadowlands in October for an allowance victory, then got her cranked up early in 2022, with wins at Tampa Bay Downs in January, February and March.

“It became a function of developing her on turf when we could get it, separating other horses as we’re doing it,” Brown said. “Make no mistake, I didn’t think I would be running her at the Meadowlands and Monmouth thinking she’s an eventual Grade I winner. But it’s not like we didn’t like the horse. If we didn’t like her, she would’ve been in for a claiming tag or in a sale. So we liked her, but we just needed to see more.”

Owner Peter Brant bought Bleecker Street, a daughter of Quality Road, who swept the 2010 Whitney and Woodward at Saratoga, for $400,000 at the 2019 Saratoga Selected Yearling Sale.

“We definitely had a lens for dirt on her,” Brown said. “I did, for a long time, and she wasn’t quite getting it done. Very much an American dirt pedigree, actually. So it was a bit of a surprise to me.

“And then when I took her down to Florida, she really started to blossom. It was clear to me that this was a graded stakes filly, for sure. And then after the race at Tampa, it really confirmed for me that she really needs to be on track to run a Grade I, because she’s developed that much. And that’s what happens with horses often. They get older and change, and go one way or another. And she went the right way.”

Bleecker Street has won her last two starts by a half-length each.

Her late-closing style could benefit from the fact that two of her stablemates, Technical Analysis and In Italian, both like to be on the lead early and likely will ensure a crisp pace.

“Every time I’ve asked her [Bleecker Street] to do something, she’s stepped up and done it,” Brown said. “Every single one of her races has been a new challenge for her, no matter the competition, the distance, the type of turf she’s on. She keeps running faster numbers each time, slowly getting better and stronger. On turf, you’re so trip-dependent and weather-dependent, for her to start off with seven straight is just remarkable.”

Rougir will be looking to get back to the form she showed in winning the Grade III Beaugay at Belmont in May.

Her first North American start after coming over from France was a seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf in November.

She was fifth by two lengths to Bleecker Street in the New York.

“Her first start [in 2022] was terrific, and her second start she just didn’t show up,” Brown said. “Maybe the turf was too firm for her. It’s a concern. She seems to prefer softer ground.

“There’s also a possibility I ran her back a little soon, for her. Every horse is different. Her first race in the country, she might’ve had a Euro bounce, I don’t know.

“In hindsight, exiting that race, she just seemed mentally a little unorganized, is the way I’d put it. And in the weeks after that, she sort of settled down and really trained focused and smooth again. And we started to put the pieces together that maybe she just needed a little more time, from that Beaugay. I’m hopeful that’s the case.”

“I don’t think it’s going to be as firm as it was at Belmont,” said Rougir’s jockey, Flavien Prat. “It was a bit disappointing. She ran so well first time, so we were expecting a good run again. She didn’t. The only change was the distance and the ground, so we felt like the ground was too fast for her, probably.”

Technical Analysis, owned by Klaravich Stables, is coming off a win in the mile-and-a-sixteenth Gallorette at Pimlico on Preakness Day.

As a 3-year-old last year, she swept the Lake George and Lake Placid at Saratoga.

“She loves Saratoga, obviously,” Brown said. “We’ve only had a handful of horses — I don’t know if it’s even a handful — to win two turf stakes in the same meet. To do that at Saratoga is very hard to do, I don’t care which two stakes they are.

“For her to win two stakes here last year as a 3-year-old, that puts you in high regard. So she clearly has an affinity not only for the track at Saratoga, but with the environment, she really loves it up here. So she’s in great form, she’s here, and she deserves a shot to run in a Grade I, so I’m going to put her in there.”

The Diana represents the first Grade I stakes Brown won as a head trainer, with Zagora in 2011, after having worked for several years for the late Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel.

Frankel won the Diana in 2001 with Starine and in 2002 with Tates Creek, which helped impress upon Brown the importance of the race.

“He had a dozen races or so that I just know, from being around him, that were very important to him, that he pointed for, and the Diana was certainly one of those races,” Brown said. “We know he had an affinity for training fillies on the turf, and he really targeted the very highest-end, most prestigious races. You’re talking about the Diana, the Beverly D., the Matriarch. These kind of races were races that he often spoke about in the wintertime, planning these races.

“So when I was able to get my hands on really quality horses at some point in my career, those races I started to point toward just like my mentor did, and we’ve been successful in all of those races.”

SANFORD FOR 2-YEAR-OLDS

The Diana card also includes the Grade III Sanford for 2-year-olds, and Andiamo a Firenze is the slight 7-2 favorite in a 12-horse field off a four-length maiden win in the slop at Belmont on June 3.

Andiamo a Firenze is a three-quarters brother to Firenze Fire, perhaps best known to Saratoga fans for attempting to savage Yaupon several times in deep stretch of the Forego on Travers Day last year before finishing second.

“He only got to second gear in that race, so we’ll see,” trainer Kelly Breen said of Andiamo a Firenze’s debut. “Hopefully, he has a few more gears.”

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