04/12/2012 2:31PM

Keeneland: Slight edge to Zagora in wide-open Jenny Wiley

Tom Cooley Photography
Zagora is one of two Grade 1 winners in the six-horse field for Saturday's Jenny Wiley.

The Jenny Wiley Stakes has for years served as a major stakes race on the Keeneland spring calendar. Now upgraded to a Grade 1 for 2012, its significance is amplified.

Although Saturday’s renewal of the $300,000 Jenny Wiley drew only six entrants, every filly and mare is of top caliber, including two – Aruna and Zagora – who are already Grade 1 winners.

Although Aruna and Zagora are deserving headliners, the remaining four runners have significant accomplishments, too. Heavenly Landing won the Grade 3 Marshua’s River on Jan. 7 at Gulfstream; Tapitsfly took the Grade 2 Honey Fox there on March 18; Daisy Devine won he Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks last year, among other stakes victories; and Bay to Bay accounted for the Grade 2 Nassau at Woodbine in 2011.

Zagora, favored at 8-5 on the morning line, has a recency edge over Aruna, having this year won the Endeavour Stakes and Hillsborough, both at Tampa Bay Downs.

[MORE: Get PPs and wager on Saturday's Keeneland card]

Aruna, last year’s Spinster winner at Keeneland, hasn’t raced since a troubled fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf in November.

For a 1 1/16-mile turf race, the Jenny Wiley lacks pace, which could make Tapitsfly dangerous if she can secure an uncontested lead. She has come from off the pace in her last two starts, but is the only filly in the field who has won on the front end.

Irrespective of the fractions, the stretch-running Zagora figures to get a nice trip under Javier Castellano. She is well drawn in post 2, allowing her to get covered up behind the leaders, and her quickening ability often leaves her in a position to win despite whatever splits unfold in front of her.

“She’s very versatile,” trainer Chad Brown said.

Behind a slow pace last year she recorded her lone Grade 1 victory, winning the Diana for owner Martin Schwartz.

As for Aruna, she is reunited with her regular rider Ramon Dominguez – whom Motion credits for often being able to get eager horses to settle in turf races. Dominguez has been aboard in all but one of her starts since Aruna was imported to America, with the exception coming in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf on Nov. 4.

Whether due to running a longer distance or due to a change of rider, Aruna was not settled in that race, a three-turn race going 1 3/8 miles. Under firm restraint from Julien Leparoux, she threw her head behind dawdling fractions, and yet still rallied to be fifth, beaten a length.

“She’s been a little unlucky to have not won a couple more Grade 1’s,” said Motion, pointing to the Breeders’ Cup and also what he felt was a tough trip second behind Zagora in the 2011 Diana.

Daisy Devine, a winner of three straight stakes, including the Grade 3 Valley View at Keeneland, is a live longshot at 10-1 on the morning line. The makeup of the race suits her up-close style, particularly if Tapitsfly goes to the lead and gives her a target. Daisy Devine has recorded five of her six victories by sitting second early, just off the leader.