INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- Diamond Diva's runner-up finish to Precious Kitten in the Grade 1 Gamely Stakes at Hollywood Park in May 2008 still amazes trainer Jim Cassidy.
Diamond Diva tore off to a four-length lead on the backstretch, setting a quick pace of 45.84 seconds, and still had enough left to finish 2 1/4 lengths behind the world-class Precious Kitten. Diamond Diva followed that loss with a career-defining victory in the Grade 2 CashCall Mile a month later, her final start of 2008.
Injury kept Diamond Diva off the track until last month when she finished second in the Grade 3 Wilshire Handicap. To Cassidy, the Wilshire was a prep race to Saturday's $250,000 Gamely Stakes, where Diamond Diva will be after the first Grade 1 win of her career.
Expectations in the stable are sky-high.
"If you look at the Gamely last year, that was an incredible race," Cassidy said. "If she runs even close to that, I think she'll win it."
Diamond Diva may control the pace in the Gamely, which has drawn a field of 11. She will need to conserve some energy for the stretch, though. Diamond Diva must hold off Magical Fantasy, Black Mamba, and Toque de Queda, the first three finishers of the Grade 2 Santa Barbara Handicap at Santa Anita last month; Bel Air Sizzle and Visit, who were second and third in the Grade 2 Santa Ana Handicap in March; Lemon Chiffon, third in the Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill Downs on May 2; and Foxysox, who won the Grade 3 Tuzla Handicap in January.
Together, they make a formidable herd pursuing Diamond Diva.
"We'll be close, if not on the lead, said Cassidy."
Owned by Three Chimneys Racing, Diamond Diva led in the stretch of the Wilshire but was caught in the final furlong by Gorgeous Goose. Cassidy concluded that the 10-month gap between starts may have caught up with Diamond Diva.
"I think she tried to win it," he said. "I'm happy with her."
The complexion of the Gamely may change by post time if Tuscan Evening is withdrawn. The winner of 3 of 4 starts since arriving from Europe last fall, Tuscan Evening is expected to contribute to the pace, but she could be scratched in favor of the $70,000 Redondo Beach Stakes on June 6, according to Dan Ward, assistant to trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.
Black Mamba is reliant on quick early fractions to aid her late kick. The winner of the Grade 1 John Mabee Handicap at Del Mar last August, she was beaten a nose in the Santa Barbara in a photo that needed several minutes of scrutiny by racing officials to decipher.
"You have to call it a win the other day," trainer John Sadler said.
The Gamely distance of 1 1/8 miles is near the minimum of Black Mamba's effective range. Last fall, she was fourth against males in the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup over 1o1/2 miles, losing by only two lengths.
"If I can get a pace in front of her, I'll be thrilled," Sadler said. "We gave her a little break after the fall last year and we're thrilled with how she's doing."
Magical Fantasy may get first jump on Black Mamba like she did in her win the Santa Barbara. Magical Fantasy won the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks last summer, but her victory in the Santa Barbara was arguably the best performance of her 14-race career.
"It looks like there is a couple of speed [horses] in there," trainer Paddy Gallagher said of the Gamely field. "In her last few races, she hasn't been as far out of it."
The Santa Barbara was Magical Fantasy's first win in three starts this year, but her first two races were losses to Life Is Sweet in the Grade 2 La Canada Stakes and Grade 1 Santa Margarita Handicap at Santa Anita. Life Is Sweet was second to the unbeaten champion Zenyatta in the Grade 2 Milady Handicap last weekend.