Acknowledging the fresh, stiff competition, Aruna’s trainer, H. Graham Motion, said his mare will have to retain her top form if she is going to sweep the Sheepshead Bay and the 1 ¼-mile New York, most recently accomplished by Mauralakana.
Aruna was 2-2-0 in five starts in 2011, including wins in the Grade 1 Spinster at Keeneland and Grade 3 All Along at Colonial Downs. In her lone off-the-board performance, she was rank at the back of the field in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf before she weaved through traffic to finish fifth, beaten one length.
The stretch runner caught a slow pace in her 2012 debut, finishing last of six in the Grade 1, one-mile Jenny Wiley in April at Keeneland. Motion, however, remained confident the 5-year-old would return to winning form when stretched out to 1 3/8 miles in the Sheepshead Bay at Belmont. The strategy worked as she made a sweeping move on the far turn under jockey Ramon Dominguez to win by 1 ¼ lengths.
“I was not concerned [about the Sheepshead Bay’s distance] as she handled it in the Breeders’ Cup,” said Motion. “The Jenny Wiley was a good place to start off, but the races we were pointing for all year were going to be these longer races, and the Sheepshead Bay was part of that program. [Dominguez and I] were a little frustrated with the way things developed in the Jenny Wiley, and I was frustrated with the way things went in the Breeders’ Cup. It was two straight races where things didn’t go her way. Ramon wasn’t going to let that happen again, and he made an early move [to win the Sheepshead Bay].”
Motion said he initially considered having Aruna await the Grade 1 Diana on July 28 or the Grade 1 Beverly D. on August 18 but decided the daughter of Mr. Greeley came out of the Sheepshead Bay in such good shape that she could make an additional start prior to those races.
“Because she’s only going to have five or six races this year, we decided she could race in the New York because she’s doing well enough,” said Motion.
Aruna, the 9-5 morning-line favorite, drew the rail and again will have the services of Dominguez.
While Aruna’s best finish in group stakes in Europe was a fourth in a Group 3 in France, Banimpire had already won five group stakes in England and Ireland and finished second by a nose in last year’s Group 1 Irish Oaks before Martin Schwartz purchased her at auction. After the sale, Schwartz placed her in the hands of trainer Chad Brown, who has bided his time with 4-year-old and kept her with his string at Saratoga Race Course.
Banimpire, a daughter of Holy Roman Emperor, will enter the Sheepshead Bay off a third in the 2011 Group 1 Prix de l’Opera at Longchamp and a seventh in the Group 2 British Champions Pride Stakes at Ascot in October.
Rosie Napravnik will ride Banimpire, the 2-1 second choice, from post position 6.
Hit It Rich, Principal Role, and Mystical Star – respectively second, third, and eighth in the Sheepshead Bay – will try Aruna once again in the New York.
Mystical Star, winner of a Keeneland allowance in her 2012 debut, beat the gate, reared up, and ducked inward at the start of the Sheesphead Bay. She found herself 11 lengths behind the pacesetter at the first call before rallying to finish third under the wire. After the race, the stewards disqualified Mystical Star and placed her last for her premature start.
“The race was over when she broke 15 lengths out of it, but she ran a really good race,” said Christophe Lorieul, assistant to trainer Christophe Clement. “It set up well because the pace was the pace was decent for that kind of race, and she ran an amazing race. I just hope she can duplicate that.”
Between her allowance victory and her sharp-but-troubled effort in the Sheepshead Bay, Lorieul says he has reason to believe Mystical Star is rounding into her best form this year at the age of 4.
“She won at Keeneland first time out, and she ran well the other day [in the Sheepshead Bay], so hopefully this year she’ll take the next step,” said Lorieul.
Jose Lezcano has the assignment aboard Mystical Star, 4-1 on the morning line, from post 4.
The Underling completes the field. Acting Happy was entered for the main track only.