Flaxman Holdings’ top-class turf mare Aruna will face a new contender in the $200,000 New York Stakes (gr. IIT) at Belmont Park June 30, when trainer Chad Brown sends 2011 Irish Oaks (IRE-I) runner-up Banimpire to her highly-anticipated North American debut.
Banimpire made history as the most expensive racing filly, broodmare prospect, or mare ever to be sold at Goffs Nov. 18, when Michel Zerolo of Oceanic Bloodstock purchased the daughter of Holy Roman Emperor for nearly $3.1 million on behalf of Martin Schwartz.
All six of the filly’s 2011 victories came in stakes, including the Ribblesdale (Eng-II), Keeneland Royal Whip (Ire-II), Kerry Group Noblesse (Ire-III), Irish Stallion Farms E.B.F. Blue Wind (Ire-III), and P.W. McGrath Memorial Ballysax (Ire-III). She finished second in the Qatar Prix de l’Opera (Fr-I) and Darley Irish Oaks (Ire-I) and enters the New York Stakes as the 2-1 second choice off a seventh in the British Champions Pride Stakes (Eng-II) at Ascot in October.
Out of Irish Champion My Renee (by Kris S), 4-year-old Banimpire was transferred to Brown shortly after the sale. The young conditioner has bided his time with the filly, keeping her with his string at Saratoga Race Course. Rosie Napravnik will ride in her first U.S. start.
Acknowledging the fresh, stiff competition, Aruna’s trainer Graham Motion said his mare will have to retain her top form if she is going to sweep the 1 3/8-mile Sheepshead Bay (gr. IIT) and the 1 ¼-mile New York, a feat most recently accomplished by Mauralakana in 2008. The May 26 Sheepshead score was first of the season for the daughter of Mr. Greeley, sixth in her 2012 debut after catching a slow pace in the 1 1/16-mile Jenny Wiley (gr. IT) at Keeneland April 14.
“The [Sheepshead Bay and the New York] are similar races, but the New York will be more akin to a grade I in terms of the caliber of the horses who will be competing in it,” said Motion. “Chad’s horse is a serious filly; I remember when they bought her last year. She’s really very highly regarded and could be very formidable not only this weekend, but for the rest of the year.”
Aruna won a single race in five starts in France before traveling across the Atlantic in 2010 to take four graded stakes. She had a 2-2-0 record in five starts in 2011, including wins in Juddmonte Spinster Stakes (gr. IT) at Keeneland and the Edward P. Evans All Along (gr. IIIT) at Colonial Downs. In her lone off-the-board performance, she was rank at the back of the field in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf (gr. IT) before she weaved through traffic to finish fifth, beaten a length.
“Our concerns before have always been that she needed to settle, and I think now that she’s an older filly she settles much easier and she’s easier to ride,” Motion remarked. “We decided to let her run her race last time and I think what she did, she did quite comfortably.
“She’s had two bad races but really they weren’t her fault; I think those two are unfair to hold against her,” he continued. “The Jenny Wiley was a good place to start off, but the races we were pointing for all year were going to be these longer races, and the Sheepshead Bay was part of that program.”
Motion said he initially considered having Aruna await the Diana (gr. IT) at Saratoga July 28 or the Beverly D. (gr. IT) at Arlington Park Aug. 18, but decided she came out of the Sheepshead Bay in such good shape that an additional start prior to those races was in order.
“Because she’s only going to have five or six races this year, we decided she could race in the New York because she’s doing well enough,” Motion remarked.
Aruna, the 9-5 morning-line favorite, drew the rail and will again have Dominguez in the saddle.
Hit It Rich, Principal Role, and Mystical Star–second, third, and eighth in the Sheepshead Bay–will try Aruna once again in the New York.
Mystical Star, winner of a Keeneland allowance in her 2012 debut, beat the gate, reared up, and ducked inward at the start of the Sheesphead Bay. The Ghostzapper filly found herself 11 lengths behind the pacesetter at the first call before rallying to finish third under the wire. Stewards disqualified Mystical Star and placed her last for her premature start.
“The race was over when she broke 15 lengths out of it, but she ran a really good race,” said Christophe Lorieul, assistant to trainer Christophe Clement. “It set up well because the pace was the pace was decent for that kind of race, and she ran an amazing race. I just hope she can duplicate that.”
Between her allowance victory for Cheyenne Stables and her sharp-but-troubled effort in the Sheepshead Bay, Lorieul says he has reason to believe Mystical Star is rounding into her best form as a 4-year-old.
“She won at Keeneland first time out, and she ran well the other day (in the Sheepshead Bay), so hopefully this year she’ll take the next step,” said Lorieul.
Jose Lezcano has the assignment aboard Mystical Star, 4-1 on the morning line.
The Underling completes the field. Acting Happy was entered for the main track only.
$200,000 New York Stakes (gr. IIT, Race 9, approximate post 5:06 p.m. ET), fillies & mares 3yo & up, 1 ¼ miles (inner turf)
PP, Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, Odds
1. Aruna (KY), R.A. Dominguez, 120, H G Motion, 9-5
2. Hit It Rich (KY), J. Castellano, 120, C R McGaughey III, 5-1
3. Principal Role (KY), J. Alvarado, 118, W I Mott, 8-1
4. Mystical Star (KY), J. Lezcano, 116, C Clement, 4-1
5. The Underling (KY), R. Maragh, 116, D P Duggan, 30-1
6. Banimpire (IRE), R. Napravnik, 118, C C Brown, 2-1
7. Acting Happy (KY) (MTO), R.A . Dominguez, 123, R E Dutrow Jr., 3-1