Aruna returned to her winning ways with a 1 1/4-length triumph in the $200,000 Sheepshead Bay Stakes (gr. IIt) May 26 at Belmont Park, but the victory was overshadowed by a troubled start that eliminated two horses (VIDEO).
Mystical Star couldn’t wait to run in the11-furlong grass test for fillies and mares, breaking through the gate prior to the start. After the 4-year-old daughter of Ghostzapper reared in the air as she made her premature start, jockey Jose Lezcano was able to bring her under control and the pair settled into the rear of the pack.
Meanwhile, the assistant starter in charge of Magical Cat breaking from the 2 post, held that horse, apparently realizing that Mystical Star had broken through the gate prematurely. Since the race was already underway by the time Magical Cat was released to run, the rest of the field had a decided head start of more than a dozen lengths. Jockey John Velazquez then pulled up the daughter of Giant's Causeway before the first turn and the horse was escorted off by an outrider.
Undeterred by the problems with Mystical Star and Magical Cat, jockey Rosie Napravnik took Aqsaam to an easy lead, pulling away to be a dozen lengths ahead of second-place Hit It Rich after a half mile had been completed in :47.34. Aqsaam continued to set a slow pace of six furlongs in 1:13.22, but her lead had dwindled to three lengths after getting a mile in 1:38.79.
As the field reached the five-sixteenths pole, Aruna and jockey Ramon Dominguez took over from Aqsaam after making a a strong move. Aruna continued her drive to open a three-length advantage at mid-stretch and had to hold off a strong closing kick from Hit It Rich, who raced in second from the outset.
The final time for 1 3/8 miles over the inner turf course labeled “good” was 2:15.47. The winner, the 2-1 favorite, paid $6.10, $3.10, and $2.60. Hit It Rich was worth $4.90 and $3.10.
Mystical Cat, who had recovered sufficiently from her poor start to show a good closing kick for third, was disqualified and placed last following a lengthy stewards' inquiry. With her DQ, fourth-place finisher Principal Role was elevated to third, returning $2.80. She was followed by Aqsaam, Distorted Legacy, Woodford Belle, and Hasay.
In addition to disqualifying Mystical Cat, stewards declared Magical Cat a non-starter.
“There was a spot by the three-eighths pole where I had to make a decision; I was very happy with where I was on the rail and she was pretty handy, but realistically, the horse in front of me was starting to slow down, and there was the filly outside me,” Dominguez said of his winning move. “I had to really take a shot and go through at that moment, which I did. I was a little concerned it would compromise my filly, but she kept on coming for me, so I was very happy with her.”
A 5-year-old daughter of Mr. Greeley trained by Graham Motion for owner-breeder Flaxman Holdings, Aruna improved to 7-3-1 in 15 starts and increased her earnings to $945,379 in the Sheepshead Bay. The mare, who won the grade I Spinster Stakes on Polytrack at Keeneland last fall, was coming off a last-place finish in the Jenny Wiley (gr. IT) at Keeneland in her seasonal debut.
Aruna finished 2011 with a fifth, only a length behind winner Perfect Shirl, in the Emirate Airlines Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT).
“In her last two races we just tried taking her out of it too much in the Breeders’ Cup and Jenny Wiley,” said Motion. “She’s a much more settled filly this year; we don’t have to worry about (getting her to relax). She’s every bit as good as she was last year; she’s just had two unlucky runs.”
Motion said Aruna’s next start most liely will come on July 28 in the grade I Diana Stakes, in which she finished second last year, or the Beverly D Stakes (gr. IT) at Arlington Park Aug. 18.