Trainer Michael Stidham watched the field for the Arlington-Washington Lassie Stakes come around the final turn last month and, for a moment, he thought he was witnessing the stakes debut of his charge Diadura come to a screeching halt.
Two-year-old fillies making their second career start don’t normally have the maturity to shrug off in-race adversity. That is why, as Stidham watched the daughter of Hard Spun stick her head through an opening that wasn’t really there and bull her way to a 5½-length win on Sept. 10, he felt emboldened that her beyond-her-years mettle was ready for a stauncher test.
“She just busted through there and drew off with her ears pricked,” Stidham said of the filly’s second win in as many starts. “We couldn’t have been happier with that in her second start.”
What would make Stidham even happier is if Diadura shows that same toughness Friday when she faces 13 other juvenile fillies in the Grade I, $400,000 Darley Alcibiades Stakes on the opening day of Keeneland’s 17-day Fall Meet.
The 1 1/16 -mile Alcibiades is one of two graded stakes on Friday’s card, which also features Grade I winner A.P. Indian in the Grade II, $250,000 Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix Stakes over 6 furlongs.
Owned by Empyrean Stables and Two Princesses, Diadura figures to vie with Grade II Pocahontas winner Daddys Lil Darling for race favoritism as the former makes her first start over a dirt surface.
Diadura broke her maiden over the synthetic main track at Arlington Park on Aug. 5 and finished the 7-furlong Arlington-Washington Lassie well within herself.
Stidham’s only hesitation in entering the dark bay filly in the Alcibiades was how she would handle dirt for the first time — a query her trainer felt better about when she worked 5 furlongs in a bullet 1:00.60 on the Keeneland main track on Sept. 30.
“The question mark was that she had trained on Polytrack all summer so when we got here, we worked her five-eighths (of a mile), and she definitely passed the test,” Stidham said. “We were very pleased with the way she got over the dirt.”
Diadura will break from post No. 11 in the Alcibiades with Daddys Lil Darling having to overcome the outside No. 14 position under jockey Corey Lanerie.
Keeneland Fall Meet
Dates: Oct. 7-29 (No racing Monday or Tuesday)
Times: Gates open at 11 a.m. and first post is 1:05 p.m. each day.
This weekend: Fall Stars Weekend features nine graded stakes races worth $3.7 million over three days, including five Grade I races.