The protagonists in Saturday's Grade 1, $600,000 Diana are well known, mostly to each other. The rivalry between Stephanie's Kitten and Dayatthespa dates to their juvenile season in 2011, while Centre Court and Samitar have locked horns with those two, and each other, multiple times in the past year.
That quartet of four-year-olds fillies, joined by the older mares Dream Peace and Laughing, will stage an excellent renewal of the Diana, contested over 1 ⅛ miles on Saratoga's inner turf.
Stephanie's Kitten has emerged this season as the leader of her peers, earning back-to-back wins in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile and the Just a Game with furious rallies. Though both were contested on less-than-firm ground, course condition has never been an issue for the daughter of Kitten's Joy, who captured the Lake Placid last summer on firm ground over the Diana course and distance.
Dayatthespa, who dealt Stephanie's Kitten a defeat last fall in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland, might be the one to fear most in the Diana. Undefeated at the ancient Union Avenue course, the New York-bred has the potential of getting an uncontested lead here, though she failed to capitalize in similar circumstances in last month's Eatontown at Monmouth, where she set fractions that were too fast to sustain.
Centre Court had never finished worse than second on grass until the June 8 Just a Game at Belmont, where she settled for fourth after a rough trip. The Rusty Arnold trainee was favored that day after starting the year two-for-two, winning the Honey Fox at Gulfstream and the Jenny Wiley at Keeneland in comfortable style. A creditable rebound in the Diana is entirely possible.
Samitar, who captured the Irish One Thousand Guineas before her importation last summer, finished behind Centre Court in her first two starts of the season and then disappointed in the Gallorette Handicap over a speed-favoring Pimlico turf. She got back on the winning track in the July 4 Fairy Garden at Belmont, a restricted overnight stakes.
Dream Peace, runner-up to Winter Memories in the 2012 Diana, is still searching for her first North American victory after coming up short in the New York, Beaugay, Flower Bowl and two editions of the E.P. Taylor in her other appearances on the continent. Laughing, who pulled off the mild upset of Dayatthespa in the Eatontown, figures on paper to be that rival's closest pursuer in the early stages of the Diana.
The Grade 1, $300,000 Prioress, a six-furlong dash for three-year-old fillies, lost a bit of luster this week when Midnight Lucky, the 6 ¼-length winner of the Acorn, did not travel from California after developing a foot bruise following a workout last weekend.
Kauai Katie, a four-time graded stakes winner, likely assumes the favorite's role in the Prioress despite getting run off her feet by Midnight Lucky in the Acorn. The Todd Pletcher pupil stumbled at the start of that one-mile test, and is capable of showing more speed this time around.
So Many Ways, who captured the Spinaway and the Schuylerville at last year's Saratoga meet, upset the Eight Belles at Churchill Downs two back, and probably found the 1 1/16 miles of the Iowa Oaks too far most recently.
Others of note in the field of seven are Wildcat Lily, last-out winner of the Azalea on Calder's Summit of Speed program, and Ju Ju Eyeballs, who enters on a five-race win streak, the last two in minor stakes at Monmouth.