After watching Flaxman Holdings’ homebred Aruna work at Churchill Downs Oct. 29, trainer Graham Motion said he was leaning toward running the 4-year-old filly in the Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) rather than the Ladies’ Classic (gr. I).
With Maryland-based jockey Sheldon Russell aboard, Aruna breezed five furlongs in 1:03 1/5 on the fast dirt track, with splits of :12 3/5, :25, :37 2/5, and :50. She galloped out six furlongs in 1:16 4/5.
Aruna worked from the five-eighths pole, going very easy when taken slightly wide around the turn in the two or three path. She continued on the same path through the stretch, still going easily, swishing her tail and moving her ears around while her head remained straight. Inside the sixteenth pole, Aruna pinned her ears as Russell squeezed her slightly, then relaxed after the wire with her ears back up. She comfortably galloped out.
Motion had said the workout would help him determine whether the daughter of Mr. Greeley out of the Unbridled mare Surya, would run in the 1 3/8-mile grass race or the Ladies’ Classic at 1 1/8 miles on the main track. The purse for each race is $2 million.
“I thought it was quite satisfactory,” Motion said. “We weren’t looking for a really flashy work. Whether she went well enough to warrant running in the dirt race, I don’t know. Sheldon was really pleased with how she did it.”
Immediately following the work, Motion said he would wait until he conferred with Maria Niarchos of Flaxman Holdings before making a final decision. But, based on his thought process, it was obvious Motion was leading toward the turf, Aruna’s preferred surface.
“Driving over here this morning I was leaning toward the dirt, but I think I’m leaning the other way now,” Motion said. ‘It’s one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make.”
From 12 lifetime starts, Aurna has made 11 grass starts, winning five. In her lone non-turf effort, the filly won the Spinster Stakes (gr. I) over Keeneland’s Polytrack, which prompted Motion to even consider the Ladies’ Classic as an option.
Motion said he began thinking about the Ladies’ Classic for Aruna following her Spinster win, taking into consideration that the Breeders’ Cup race was coming up relatively soft. He said part of his trepidation about running Aruna in the Ladies’ Classic is because the Filly & Mare Turf has been the stable’s goal for her 2011 campaign.
“I don’t want to get too carried away with the dirt thing, considering how well she handles the turf,” said the trainer who earlier this year won the biggest race of his career when Animal Kingdom took the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
Motion said the only question he has about Aruna running in the turf race is that she has never run the 1 3/8 mile distance.
“I don’t want to waste her season” by opting for the main track race over the grass race, Motion said.
Ian Tapp contributed to this story