Zagora earned her first United States win in five starts when she charged home on the outside to tally convincingly by 1 1/2 lengths in the $500,000 Diana Stakes (gr. IT) on the Saratoga turf July 30 (VIDEO).
The 4-year-old French-bred filly was ridden for the first time by red-hot Javier Castellano, who kept the stalking Zagora clear of traffic and guided her past the leading Bay to Bay on the outside in deep stretch.
Zagora, off at odds of 5-1, completed the 1 1/8-mile Diana in a time of 1:49.19 over a Mellon Turf Course rated "good." Late-running Aruna got up for second over Bay to Bay, who had taken the lead in the stretch from the quickly fading favorite Unbridled Humor.
Trained by Chad Brown for owner Martin Schwartz, Zagora had three seconds and a third in four prior U.S. starts and was coming off a runner-up finish in Belmont Park's New York Stakes (gr. IIT) at 10 furlongs on a firm inner turf course June 25. The daughter of Green Tune had a pair of group III victories in France.
“My mentor, Bobby Frankel, taught me everything I know, especially about European horses," Brown noted after his first grade I victory. "And this was one of his very favorite races. He loved the Diana, and we won it a couple of times when I worked for him.
“She had been knocking on the door and she had been a little unlucky, but one thing Bobby told me was, ‘Go back to the European form and see who they were running with. It’s a good measure of how much ability they have.’ She was running with very good horses in Europe, so it was just a matter of time for her to fully acclimate over here, maybe get lucky with a trip, (and) find the ground she liked. Everything came together today."
E Puerari and Oceanic Bloodstock bred Zagora. The winning chestnut is out of the Mtoto mare Zaneton.
A field of nine contested this year's Diana. Zagora raced mid-pack near the rail as 19-10 choice Unbridled Humor, breaking from the inside post, took the early lead from Bay to Bay. Unbridled Humor, four-for-four in her career, slowed the pace to a crawl (:25.20, :50.31, 1:14.02) with Bay to Bay, Giants Play, and Dyna Waltz following closely.
Castellano switched Zagora to the outside of rivals on the far turn and asked her for more near the three-sixteenths pole. Bay to Bay, ridden by Alan Garcia, turned up the heat leaving the final turn and took the lead in upper stretch as Unbridled Humor gave way.
Several runners were charging from the back, but none could match strides with Zagora, who struck the front at the furlong marker and edged away under right-handed urging in the final sixteenth of a mile.
“I had a beautiful trip," Castellano said. "She broke a little bit slow, but I tried to rush a little bit, put her in the game and on the first turn, I got my position and that’s where I wanted to be. I saved all the ground in the first turn and turning for home I saw horses start backing up a little bit. I went around the two front-running horses and when I asked her, it was unbelievable. She’s a really small filly, but she’s got good heart."
Aruna, racing eighth under Ramon Dominguez into the final turn, rallied from sixth when she found clear sailing at mid-stretch to catch Bay to Bay for second by a neck.
Mekong Melody also closed willingly from the back of the pack for fourth, a half-length behind Bay to Bay. Aviate, Dyna Waltz, Unbridled Humor, Justaroundmidnight, and Giants Play completed the order.
Zagora picked up her first victory since taking the Prix de Psyche (Fr-III) at Deauville July 31, 2010, for trainer Jean-Claude Rouget. She made her U.S. debut in in Keeneland's Queen Elizabeth Challenge Cup (gr. IT) last October, rallying belatedly to finish second behind Harmonious.
With Brown taking over conditioning chores, Zagora raced three times previously in 2011. She ran second in Tampa Bay's Hillsborough Stakes (gr. IIIT) and third in the Jenny Wiley Stakes (gr. IIT) on a yielding Keeneland turf course prior to her runner-up effort in the New York. The Diana victory, worth $300,000, boosted her earnings to $676,522 on a record of 5-4-2 in 13 starts.
Sent off as the fourth choice, Zagora carried 118 pounds and paid $13.60, $5.90, and $3.60. Second choice Aruna, coming off a win in the All Along Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Colonial Downs June 18 for trainer Graham Motion, returned $4.40 and $2.90. The exacta was worth $50. Bay to Bay, winner of Woodbine's Nassau Stakes (Can-IIT) last month, paid $4.60 to show.