No factor in her only start this year, Aruna looks to get back on the beam for trainer Graham Motion in the $200,000 Sheepshead Bay Stakes (gr. IIT), scheduled for the inner turf course at Belmont Park May 26.
Ten older fillies and mares are slated to start in the 1 1/8-mile Sheepshead Bay, with Aruna, the 3-1 morning line pick, and Orchid Stakes (gr. IIIT) winner Hit It Rich (7-2) each to carry high weight of 120 pounds. Four others were entered for the main track only, though the weather forecast does not call for rain until May 27 when scattered thunderstorms are possible.
The Sheepshead Bay is race 8 on the Saturday card with a 4:34 p.m. EDT probable post.
Flaxman Holdings' homebred Aruna won the All Along (gr. IIIT) and Spinster (gr. I) stakes last year and was second in the Diana (gr. IT). She concluded her 2011 season with a fifth-place finish in the 11-furlong Emirates Airline Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT). She was just one length behind the winner Perfect Shirl thanks to a big late run following a difficult trip at Churchill Downs.
“She handled the distance in the Breeders’ Cup but had an unlucky trip, and (longer races) are the direction we’re probably going to end up going,” said Motion.
The 5-year-old daughter of Mr. Greeley failed to produce that familiar late kick in the 1 1/16-mile Jenny Wiley Stakes (gr. IT), her only start of the new season April 14 at Keeneland, finishing last of six.
“Her first race was paceless and where she finished wasn’t a sign of how she was doing,” said Motion. “I’m not going to hold it against her. She was plenty fit, but she was taken out of her element.”
Aruna began her career in France, where she was trained by Jonathan Pease.
Regular rider Ramon Dominguez is back aboard Aruna, a six-time winner from 14 starts with earnings of $825,379. They break from post 5. The dark bay mare won her only other start at Belmont, taking the one-mile Pebbles as a 3-year-old by three lengths in October 2010.
Motion also entered Team Valor International's Hasay, an allowance winner on the Keeneland turf April 11 at 12 furlongs.
Hit It Rich earned her second graded win in three starts when she rallied to edge runaway pacesetter Aqsaam, also entered in the Sheepshead Bay, by a half-length in the 12-furlong Orchid at Gulfstream Park March 31. Stuart Janney III's 5-year-old Smart Strike mare, trained by Shug McGaughey, won the Long Island Handicap (gr. IIIT) in November.
“She has speed, so she should be able to dictate what’s going on,” said McGaughey. “I think she wants [longer] races. We have the New York (gr. IIT at 1 ¼ miles June 30) coming up, and there are plenty of spots to run her. (The races) aren’t all bunched up.”
The six-time winner from 13 races breaks from post 4 with Javier Castellano aboard.
Lightly raced Aqsaam failed to find the winner's circle for the first time in four starts when she yielded late in the Orchid after opening a 12-length advantage. Kiaran McLaughlin trains the 4-year-old Dynaformer filly who was making her stakes debut for Shadwell Stable in the Orchid. McLaughlin tabbed Rosie Napravnik to ride.
“We’re lightly raced, still learning, very talented filly,” said Art Magnuson, assistant to McLaughlin, speaking of the 4-1 morning line chance.
Christophe Clement seeks a record fifth win in the Sheepshead Bay with Cheyenne Stable's Mystical Star, who comes off an allowance victory on the Polytrack at Keeneland April 21. A 4-year-old daughter of Ghostzapper , Mystical Star seeks her first stakes win for Clement, who previously won the Sheepshead Bay in 1993, 2000, 2003, and 2008.
Trainer Bill Mott, who has taken the Sheepshead Bay three times, is represented by Juddmonte's Principal Role (6-1). A recent import from Great Britain, where she raced for Sir Henry Cecil, the 5-year-old Empire Maker mare finished third in Belmont's Beaugay (gr. IIIT) on yielding turf May 5. She rallied belatedly after being forced to alter course at the sixteenth pole.
“I ran her in the Beaugay because I had no other place to run with more distance," Mott said. "She was ready at the end of April, and I couldn’t find a race, so I used the Beaugay to get started. She’s run quite a number of races at 10 furlongs, and she seemed to handle it OK. It could be the difference with her style.”
Mott's most recent win in the Sheepshead Bay came in 2010 with Juddmonte's Treat Gently.
Grade II winners Arena Elvira and Acting Happy lead the main track only entrants.
$200,000 Sheepshead Bay (gr. IIT, Race 8, 4:34 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 3 & Up, 1 3/8 Miles (Inner Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Mystical Star (KY), J Lezcano, 116, C Clement
2. Magical Cat (IRE), J R Velazquez, 116, J P Terranova II
3. Aqsaam (KY), R Napravnik, 116, K P McLaughlin
4. Hit It Rich (KY), J Castellano, 120, C R McGaughey III
5. Aruna (KY), R A Dominguez, 120, H G Motion
6. Principal Role (KY), J Alvarado, 118, W I Mott
7. Distorted Legacy (KY), R Maragh, 116, A J Penna Jr.
8. Woodford Belle (KY), E S Prado, 116, M Nihei
9. Hasay (GB), J R Leparoux, 116, H G Motion
10. Senada (KY), E Castro, 116, B Tagg
Main Track Only
11. Arena Elvira (KY), no rider, 123, W I Mott
12. Acting Happy (KY), R A Dominguez, 123, R E Dutrow Jr.
13. Pinch Pie (KY), J Castellano, 118, A W Dutrow
14. Draw It (KY), R Maragh, 118, T Albertrani