Grade I winner Summer Soiree, last seen finishing second in the Matriarch Stakes (gr. IT) last November, makes her 2012 debut in the $250,000 Ballston Spa Stakes Presented by Jose Cuervo (gr. IIT) on the inner turf at Saratoga Race Course Aug. 25.
The 1 1/16-mile Ballston Spa, for fillies and mares 3 and up, is the first of four graded events on Saturday's Travers Stakes (gr. I) program at Saratoga. It is the ninth race on the card with a 4:05 p.m. EDT scheduled post.
Owned by Team Valor International, 4-year-old Summer Soiree won the Del Mar Oaks (gr. IT) for trainer Graham Motion one year ago. Purchased privately after she won the Bourbonette Oaks (gr. II) by nearly 11 lengths, Motion switched the speedy daughter of War Front to the turf after a blow-out loss in the 2011 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I).
She has won two of four starts on grass with one second, which came nine months ago by a half-length in the one-mile Matriarch at Betfair Hollywood Park.
Summer Soiree has been working steadily at Fair Hill Training Center since the end of June.
To be ridden from post 5 by Julien Leparoux, Summer Soiree is 9-2 on the morning line and will face eight opponents in the Ballston Spa. The 123-pound high weight is grade I winner Tapitsfly, most recently fifth in Saratoga's Diana Stakes (gr. IT) on good turf after setting the pace July 28. A third grade I winner in the deep field is 5-2 morning line choice Zagora.
Tapitsfly (7-2), a 5-year-old daughter of Tapit trained by Dale Romans for Frank Jones Jr., won the Just A Game (gr. IT) in front-running style on the Belmont Park inner turf in June. The gray mare, who has banked more than $1.2 million in a 22-race career that includes six victories, has hit the board in all six of her starts this year. Javier Castellano takes the mount.
"Firmer ground is definitely what she wants," Romans said. "She came out of the Diana really well. I wasn't thinking about running her back that quick, but she is just doing so well up here. There's plenty of speed in there with her and Summer Soiree, so we'll see what happens."
Also coming out the nine-furlong Diana are Zagora, who ran third as she attempted to repeat her 2011 victory in the high-caliber event, and fifth-place finisher Hungry Island (3-1).
The French-bred Zagora, trained by Chad Brown for Martin S. Schwartz, lost for just the second time in five starts this year in the Diana. She previously captured the Endeavor (gr. IIIT) and Hillsborough (gr. IIIT) stakes at Tampa Bay Downs this season, as well as the Gallorette Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Pimlico Race Course in May. Ramon Dominguez retains the mount.
"After watching (the Diana) again, I didn't feel like she was going to finish better than third," Brown said. 'She really got the trip I was looking for from Ramon; she saved ground. In hindsight, she probably did need the race. Especially on softer turf, it was a little more demanding of a race off the layoff. She got a lot out of it, and she has put a couple of really nice works in since."
Zagora is the 5-2 morning line choice.
Emory Hamilton's homebred Hungry Island won the Distaff Turf Mile (gr. IIT) at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby day for trainer Shug McGaughey before placing third in the Just A Game. She was a bit wide in the Diana and failed to rally.
Other leading contenders are Lally Stable's Heavenly Landing, runner-up in the Eatontown Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Monmouth Park June 30, and Virginia Craft Payson's Ruthenia, fourth without excuse in the Eatontown as the 3-2 favorite. Ruthenia won Monmouth's Violet Stakes (gr. IIIT) May 28 for trainer Christophe Clement.
$250,000 Ballston Spa Stakes (gr. IIT, Race 9, 4:05 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 3 & Up, 1 1/16 Miles (Inner Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Heavenly Landing (KY), J Rosario, 118, E Kenneally
2. Zagora (FR), R A Dominguez, 120, C C Brown
3. Thundering Emilia (KY), A V Clemente, 118, M R Matz
4. Hungry Island (KY), J R Velazquez, 120, C R McGaughey III
5. Summer Soiree (KY), J R Leparoux, 120, H G Motion
6. Tapitsfly (KY), J Castellano, 123, D L Romans
7. Ruthenia (KY), J Lezcano, 118, C Clement
8. Mykindofladyfriend (KY), R Napravnik, 118, D J Seyler
Main Track Only
9. Acting Happy (KY), no rider, 119, R E Dutrow Jr.