In 2011, Aruna was second in the Grade 1 Diana on Turf at Saratoga Race Course before going on to take the Grade 1 Spinster on Keeneland’s Polytrack in October. Trying 1 3/8-miles in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Churchill Downs, she resisted restraint from jockey Julien Leparoux in the early stages of the race, came four wide into the stretch to offer her bid, and finished fifth, beaten one length by Perfect Shirl.
“Her first race was paceless and where she finished wasn’t a sign of how she was doing,” said trainer H. Graham Motion. “I’m not going to hold it against her. She was plenty fit, but she was taken out of her element.”
Aruna’s performance in the Breeders’ Cup prompted her connections to consider races lengthier than the 1 1/16-mile Jenny Wiley.
“She handled the distance in the Breeders’ Cup but had an unlucky trip, and [longer races] are the direction we’re probably going to end up going,” said Motion, who said he might withdraw Aruna if there’s considerable moisture in the turf on Saturday.
Aruna, who was made the 3-1 morning-line favorite for the Sheepshead Bay, drew post position 5. Ramon Dominguez was named to ride.
The Sheepshead Bay will serve as a rematch between Hit It Rich and Aqsaam, the top two finishers in the Grade 3, 1 ½-mile Orchid on March 31 at Gulfstream Par
Stuart S. Janney, III’s Hit It Rich concluded her 2011 campaign with a victory in the Grade 3 Long Island Handicap in November at Aqueduct, then made two starts at Gulfstream Park, finishing second in the Grade 3 Suwanee River on February 11 prior to her half-length triumph in the Orchid. Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey mulled a possible start in Keeneland’s Grade 3 Bewitch on April 26 before deciding to await the Sheepshead Bay.
“She has speed, so she should be able to dictate what’s going on,” said McGaughey. “I think she wants [longer] races. We have the New York [Grade 2, 1 ¼ miles, Belmont, June 30] coming up, and there are plenty of spots to run her. [The races] aren’t all bunched up.”
Javier Castellano will ride Hit It Rich, the 7-2 second choice, from post 4.
The Orchid was the fourth start and first career loss for Shadwell Stable’s Aqsaam. In the Orchid, Aqsaam opened up by 12 lengths through a half-mile and offered stiff resistance before she relinquished the lead in the final furlong.
“We’re lightly raced, still learning, very talented filly,” said Art Magnuson, assistant to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. “Rajiv [Maragh] rode her very well last time, not his fault at all. She gets a little keen. The saddle was thinking of moving. It did not slip, but Rajiv felt like the saddle could have gone forward with the way she was tugging. She’s not easy, and she should be forward again on Saturday. I didn’t see a lot of speed in there.”
Rosie Napravnik will be aboard Aqsaam, the 4-1 third choice who drew post 3, for the first time in the Sheepshead Bay.
“It will be Rosie’s job to get her to relax a little,” said Magnuson. “She’s not a runoff. She gets a little strong. She fought back last time. As she does more racing, that might come naturally.”
Principal Role, a Juddmonte Farms homebred, will have the benefit of additional ground when she competes in the Sheepshead Bay. She was third in her North American debut, the Grade 3, 1 1/16-mile Beaugay on May 5 at Belmont. Previously in England and Ireland, she won four listed stakes at 1 ¼ miles.
“She was closing at the end [of the Beaugay],” said Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. “I ran her in the Beaugay because I had no other place to run with more distance. She was ready at the end of April, and I couldn’t find a race, so I used the Beaugay to get started. She’s run quite a number of races at 10 furlongs, and she seemed to handle it OK. It could be the difference with her style.”
Principal Role, 6-1 on the morning line, will leave from post 6 with Junior Alvarado aboard.
From the rail out, the field also includes Mystical Star, winner of an April 21 Keeneland allowance on Polytrack; Magical Cat, who took an Aqueduct allowance on April 20 in her North American debut; Distorted Legacy, third in the Wait a While on April 8 at Gulfstream; Woodford Belle, fourth in the Orchid and second in the Bewitch; Hasay, a stablemate to Aruna who took an April 11 allowance at Keeneland; and Senada, seventh in the Orchid and third in the Bewitch. Arena Elvira, Acting Happy, Pinch Pie, and Draw It were entered for the main track only.