Following Aruna’s half-length victory in the Oct. 9 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes (gr. I) over the Polytrack at Keeneland, trainer Graham Motion knew he was going to have to make a tough decision. Would he return the gritty 4-year-old filly to the turf for the 11-furlong Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) or would he opt to go in the 1 1/8-mile Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (gr. I) on the dirt at Churchill Downs?
The way Aruna has performed throughout her career, either path was a good one. However, after she worked over Churchill’s main track Oct. 29, Motion decided to keep his star on the turf.
“Ultimately I felt more confident about her getting the distance on the turf than I did about how she was going to handle the dirt,” Motion said. “She had a perfectly good workout, but I’m not sure it told me anything.”
One thing Aruna has been telling her connections throughout her life is she is a filly of quality. Flaxman Holding’s homebred daughter of Mr. Greeley—Surya, by Unbridled, has impressed from the start.
“She was a filly we really liked from the beginning,” said Alan Cooper, racing manager for Flaxman Holdings. “She had a great physique.”
Foaled and raised at the Oak Tree division of Lane’s End Farm north of Lexington, Aruna was sent to France and trainer Jonathan Pease.
“Jonathan Pease really liked her a lot,” Cooper said. “Her real strength is her character--everything is straight forward with her.”
She recorded one win from three starts in France at 2 in 2009, then ran in a pair of stakes early in her 3-year-old year in France running fourth in a group III and was sixth behind Sarafina (favorite for the Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Turf, gr. IT) in the Prix Saint-Alary (Fr-I).
Unfortunately, she was a bleeder and she returned to the United States and was the first horse Flaxman sent to Motion to train. Flaxman, who has won five runnings of the Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. IT) with Miesque(2), Spinning World, Domedriver, and Six Perfections, previously used the late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel for more than two decades with their American-based runners.
“They were really high on her but she started bleeding which is why she came over here,” Motion said. “I get a lot of these fillies from Europe that bleed and they need Lasix to run, that’s why they come here.”
She captured Motion’s imagination right off the bat, coming from far back to win a mile allowance race on the turf at Saratoga. She then annexed Belmont’s Pebble Stakes and the nine-furlong Mrs. Revere Stakes (gr. IIT) at Churchill.
This year, Aruna was second in her seasonal debut in the one-mile Distaff Turf Mile (gr. IIIT) on Derby weekend at Churchill Downs, then won the All Along Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Colonial Downs before running second, beaten 1 ½ lengths in Saratoga’s Diana Stakes (gr. IT).
“She’s a horse that has impressed me from day one,” Motion said. “She was unlucky in the Diana. I don’t think she had a great trip.”
She did have a great trip in the Spinster, charging from seventh to sweep to the lead in midstretch. That gave Motion pause as to which direction to take in the Breeders’ Cup. While he may be concerned about the trip, there is nothing in her pedigree that suggests she won’t excel.
Aruna’s female family is packed with black-type quality all down the line. Her dam, the Unbridled mare Surya, won three graded stakes in the U.S. in 2002 after starting her career in France under Pease. Trained by Frankel, Surya won the Dahlia Handicap (gr. IIT) and Royal Heroine Mile Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Hollywood Park and added Saratoga’s Ballston Spa Breeders’ Cup Handicap to her resume. She also ran third behind Arthur Hancock III’s Owsley in the WinStar Galaxy Stakes (gr. IIT) at Keeneland.
“Bobby really liked her,” Cooper said. “He kept her on the grass but we think she could have been just as good on the dirt.”
Surya was the second foal out of Flaxman’s French stakes-winning Nureyev mare Wild Planet. Wild Planet, a half sister to a pair of stakes-placed runners, was out of Ivory Wings, a stakes winner in Europe and the U.S. Ivory Wings was out of Kittiwake, Newstead Farm’s blue hen mare who was a grade II winner. Kittiwake was responsible for multiple grade I winner Miss Oceana, who ran seventh in the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I) in 1984; group I winner Kitwood; and multiple group winner Larida, the dam of group I winner Magic of Life.
Aruna’s yearling colt by Harlan’s Holiday will be sent to Motion. Unfortunately, Surya died this spring after delivering a filly April 19 by Distorted Humor.
“She was a big loss to our broodmare band,” Cooper said. “She gave plenty of size to her foals.”
That size will come in handy Nov. 5. Now that Motion has made his decision, it makes for another tough decision for horseplayers: to bet against her.