Caroline A. Forgason's Somali Lemonade earned a new career high in a contentious renewal of the Grade 1, $500,000 Diana at Saratoga on Saturday.
But the 11-1 chance didn't accomplish her objective on the front end, as might have been expected. Rather, under a well-judged ride by Luis Saez, Somali Lemonade let her more eager rivals go on early, pounced on pacesetter Discreet Marq in deep stretch, and held the belated thrust of Stephanie's Kitten.
"Today, I broke in front, but another speed horse was coming outside of me," Saez recapped. "I let her pass, but when we came to the three-eighths I had so much horse that when I got in the clear, she responded and won the race. It's amazing to win another Grade 1 in Saratoga."
Somali Lemonade has been better than ever since the addition of blinkers this season, showing newfound speed to wire a third-level allowance at Keeneland as well as the May 17 Gallorette at Pimlico. The Michael Matz mare again set the pace in the June 7 Just a Game last time out, but yielded late and finished third.
Breaking sharply from post 3, Somali Lemonade was already on top in the opening strides. But Discreet Marq was on the muscle herself, and she was further fired up by a rank Tannery moving alongside her. Saez accordingly conceded the issue and eased Somali Lemonade into a close tracking spot, saving ground throughout.
As Discreet Marq was completing the initial quarter in :24 1/5, 5-2 favorite Alterite was also pulling her way forward, apparently too fresh in her seasonal reappearance. Alterite overtook Tannery, who was now backing off to stalk the pace, and proceeded to pester Discreet Marq down the backstretch. The two raced as a team through a half in :49 4/5, but Discreet Marq appeared to keep her head in front, and still held a slim advantage at the six-furlong mark in 1:13 4/5.
Discreet Marq began to get away from the tiring Alterite at the head of the lane, and inched a length clear while clocking the mile in 1:37. In the process, a perfect seam opened up for Somali Lemonade. Quick to capitalize, she collared Discreet Marq inside the final furlong.
Then Stephanie's Kitten, who had been reserved in midpack on the outside, hit her best stride for Frankie Dettori. Although she was finishing fast, she could not catch Somali Lemonade in time, and came up a neck short. Stephanie's Kitten thus had to settle for a minor award in the Diana for the second straight year, having flashed home for third in last year's running.
"There wasn't much pace," Dettori observed. "It was draw 9. That was the trouble. Unfortunately, I had to lose ground the whole time. They got three lengths on me, and I ran out of stretch."
"I thought she ran terrific," trainer Chad Brown said of Stephanie's Kitten. "Probably needed a little more pace up front. Just ran out of ground. I thought she ran a dynamite race. If she came out of it OK, we'll probably go on to the next one, the Beverly D. (August 16 at Arlington Park)."
Another neck away in third came Discreet Marq, followed by Abaco, who uncorked a big move from last on the far turn; Solid Appeal; Strathnaver; Caroline Thomas; Alterite; Emollient, who was rank and troubled early; and Tannery.
Brown, who also saddled beaten favorite Alterite, attributed her performance to a lack of fitness.
"I was disappointed she tired like she did," the trainer said. "We were a little cautious about her maybe being a little short for this race, but I thought it was worth a shot. She got a beautiful trip up close, stalking a slow pace, but she really got tired the last eighth (of a mile), but we'll regroup and find out what the next spot is for her."
Somali Lemonade covered 1 1/8 miles in 1:48 2/5, fueled a $24.60 win mutuel, and completed a big-race double for her sire Lemon Drop Kid, whose sophomore daughter Aurelia's Belle captured the Grade 3 Arlington Oaks a little earlier.
A confirmed closer when she burst on the scene as a two-year-old in the fall of 2011, Somali Lemonade stylishly captured the Jessamine at Keeneland in her second career start. She subsequently became something of an underachiever. Winless during her sophomore campaign, she just missed a Grade 1 trophy in the Garden City and also placed in the Lake Placid, Boiling Springs, and Appalachian in 2012.
Somali Lemonade finally halted her losing skid in last summer's Dr. James Penny Memorial Handicap at Parx, notching her second Grade 3 triumph. She went unplaced, however, in her final four outings of 2013. An equipment change to blinkers helped in the January 4 Marshua's River, where Somali Lemonade checked in a solid second, and it has been a case of onwards and upwards ever since. Her resume now reads 22-6-3-3, $948,421.
"Not a bad horse to have," Matz summed up. "I said I didn't think she needed to be on the lead but, listen, what the hell do I know at this point? She's won on the lead, she's won from behind. I think she's just a good filly and she showed it today. It was a pretty tough group that she ran against today.
"I don't know if it was the blinkers, I don't know if it was maturity, but she's doing really well right now.
"She's better now at five than she was her whole life."
Bred by Cina Forgason in Kentucky, Somali Lemonade is a half-sister to stakes winner Rasta Farian, the Grade 3-placed Chic Joy and the winning Brusca, the dam of French Group 3 hero Baraan, who was an unlucky third in the 2011 French Derby.
Somali Lemonade's dam, the unraced Nureyev mare Chic Corine, is out of Grade 1 star and successful broodmare Chic Shirine, herself a full sister to champion Queena. Family members of note include Grade 1 winners Verrazano, Serra Lake and Brahms as well as Grade 2 winners Hungry Island, El Padrino, Al Khali, Waldoboro and Tara Roma.