Aviate and Aruna, who ran one-two at Churchill Downs earlier this year, will square off again in a competitive edition of the $500,000 Diana (gr. IT) July 30 at Saratoga.
A field of 10 fillies and mares going nine furlongs on turf will do battle in the Diana, which shares top billing with the $500,000 Jim Dandy (gr. II) on Saratoga’s Saturday card. The races will be shown live on VERSUS with coverage beginning at 5 p.m. EDT.
None of the 10 Diana entrants are grade I winners, but five of them—Aviate, Aruna, Bay to Bay
, Giants Play
, and Mekong Melody
—are grade II winners, and the intriguing field is further enhanced by Unbridled Humor
, who is undefeated in four starts and making her graded stakes debut. Both Aruna and Unbridled Humor are trained by Graham Motion.
Hall of Famers Bill Mott, the trainer of Aviate, and Jonathan Sheppard, who will send out multiple graded stakes-placed Dyna Waltz
, have won the last six runnings of the Diana between them with Mott taking four of them, including with last year’s winner Proviso. Sheppard won in 2008-09 with Forever Together.
Juddmonte Farms’ homebred Aviate defeated Aruna by 1 1/2 lengths in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (gr. IIT) on May 7 for her first stateside win. Most recently, the daughter of Dansili was sixth as the 3-2 favorite in the June 11 Just a Game (gr. IT) at Belmont. The English-bred 4-year-old was a group III winner in Europe as a sophomore before being shipped to the barn of Mott.
Mott is hoping for firm gound on Saturday, unlike the softer going Aviate (5-1) experienced in the Just a Game.
“We feel that firm turf is a little better for her,” said Mott. “The ground (in the Just a Game) might have bothered her. It was a little softer than I thought it would be.”
Julien Leparoux will ride Aviate, who is 4-0-1 from 10 lifetime starts.
Aruna’s only setback in her last four tries was to Aviate in the Churchill Distaff. Flaxman Holdings’ 4-year-old filly closed out her 2010 campaign by winning the Mrs. Revere (gr. IIT) at Churchill and in her last start captured the All Along (gr. IIIT) June 18 at Colonial Downs as the 1-2 favorite. Ramon Dominguez keeps the mount on the 3-1 morning-line favorite.
“She hasn’t done much wrong,” said Motion. “I was disappointed she lost on Derby Day, but she got beat by a good filly who had a race under her belt. She seems to be in great form.”
Motion will also saddle Live Oak Plantation’s rapidly improving Unbridled Humor, who won the Memories of Silver Stakes at Aqueduct last winter and romped by 8 1/2 lengths in a July 5 allowance contest at Delaware Park in her season debut. The Distorted Humor
filly has won her four lifetime starts by a combined 16 lengths, including a maiden victory at Saratoga in her debut last summer.
“Her potential is unlimited,” said Motion. “She can be quite tricky to train and she has a mind of her own. She has done everything with relative ease, but it is a huge step into grade I competition.”
John Velazquez, a three-time Diana winner, will have the call on Unbridled Humor.
The Diana also attracted the top two finishers of Belmont’s New York Stakes (gr. IIT) on June 25, in which Giants Play held off Zagora by a head.
Giants Play, whose two career victories came in a 1 1/2-mile maiden race over the all-weather at Kempton in England and in the 1 1/4-mile New York, hasn’t raced at a distance shorter than 1 1/4 miles since her second start.
“I would feel better if (the Diana) was a mile and three sixteenths or a mile and three eighths,” said trainer Christophe Clement. “The filly is doing great and is very sound.”
Trainer Chad Brown is hoping to turn the tables on Giants Play in the Diana after Zagora attempted to close into the New York’s slow fractions of 52.99 and 1:17.65.
“I think it’s going to come down to the trip,” said Brown. “I think if she can save some ground and get a better trip than what she has been getting, hopefully she’ll make up the difference. (In the New York), the winner got loose on the lead on us, and there wasn’t much we could do about it.”
Zagora entered the New York off a second in the Hillsborough (gr. IIIT) at Tampa Bay Downs in March and a third in the Jenny Wiley (gr. IIT) at Keeneland in April.
$500,000 Diana (gr. IT, Race 9, 5:12 p.m.), Fillies and Mares, 1 1/8 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, Odds
1. Unbridled Humor (FL), J R Velazquez, 118, H G Motion, 4-1
2. Justaroundmidnight (IRE), J Bravo, 118, P L Biancone, 20-1
3. Dyna Waltz (GB), E S Prado, 118, J E Sheppard, 12-1
4. Zagora (FR), J Castellano, 118, C C Brown, 6-1
5. Bay to Bay (FL), A Garcia, 120, B A Lynch, 6-1
6. Aruna (KY), R A Dominguez, 118, H G Motion, 3-1
7. Aviate (GB), J R Leparoux, 120, W I Mott, 5-1
8. Giants Play (KY), R Maragh, 120, C Clement, 8-1
9. Mekong Melody (IRE), A O Solis, 118, R L Attfield, 10-1
10. Romacaca (FL), E T Baird, 118, N Canani, 15-1