06/28/2012 3:09PM

Belmont: Irish import top threat to Aruna in New York

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Aruna, winning the Sheepshead Bay in her last start, returns in Saturday's Grade 2 New York.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Headed by the top four finishers from last month’s Sheepshead Bay and a pricey import from Europe, a field of six fillies and mares will square off in Saturday’s 69th running of the New York Stakes.

A Grade 2, $200,000 race scheduled for 1 1/4 miles on the inner turf, the New York is carded as the ninth of 11 races and is the second leg of a late pick four with a $350,000 guaranteed pool. Post time is 5:06 p.m.

Expected to vie for favoritism are Aruna, who took command of the Sheepshead Bay under decisive handling from Ramon Dominguez for her sixth win from 10 starts in the United States; and Banimpire, a five-time group stakes winner who makes her U.S. and seasonal debut after being purchased at auction in Ireland last November for approximately $3.1 million.

After venturing onto Polytrack to win the Grade 1 Spinster last fall, Aruna was rank under restraint and finished full of run to finish fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, beaten just a length for all the money.

She returned as a 5-year-old in the Jenny Wiley but never entered contention behind Daisy Devine, who stole the race on an easy lead. In the Sheepshead six weeks later, Aruna raced in mid-pack as Aqsaam ran off to a long early lead, but she seized command with a daring move before reaching the stretch and held off late runs from Hit It Rich, Mystical Star, and Principal Role, who are back for another try Saturday.

“It was two straight races where things didn’t go her way,” trainer Graham Motion said, referring to the Breeders’ Cup and Jenny Wiley. “Ramon wasn’t going to let that happen again, and he made an early move.”

Motion said the Sheepshead Bay and New York are similar races but said the caliber of horses in the New York made it more akin to a Grade 1 race.

That is a direct reference to Banimpire, who makes her first start since being purchased by Martin Schwartz and turned over to Chad Brown, a partnership that last year produced two of the division’s top runners in Eclipse champion Stacelita and Diana winner Zagora, who was beaten a head in the New York right before that.

Banimpire ran a dozen times at 3 and won stakes from April through August, along with a nose loss in the Group 1 Irish Oaks and a close third to Nahrain in the Group 1 Prix de l’Opera toward the end of a long campaign.

“It’s a strong division, especially on the East Coast – seems to be the best turf fillies and mares around,” Brown said. “If you’re going to win a Grade 1 on the East Coast with a turf filly this year, you’re going to have to earn it.”

The Underling, primarily a dirt sprinter, rounds out the lineup.

Acting Happy entered for dirt only.