07/25/2007 11:00PM

Makderah hot filly heading into Diana

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin couldn't wait to expound upon the virtues of his latest star, Makderah, who figures to go postward among the favorites in the Grade 1 Diana Stakes Saturday at Saratoga.

The $500,000 Diana is one of four graded stakes in Saturday's Breeders' Cup Challenge Series, with the winner getting an automatic berth into the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf.

Eight fillies and mares were entered for the 1 1/8-mile Diana, including three - Mauralakana, Countess Scala, and Danzon - from the barn of trainer Patrick Biancone. The other entrants are Meribel, Magnificent Song, Argentina, and My Typhoon.

Makderah, 4, has won 2 of 3 starts, including the Grade 2 New York Stakes by four lengths, since shipping to the United States and into McLaughlin's barn earlier this season.

"She's a very special filly and has been very impressive in her last two races," said McLaughlin, who trains the homebred for the Shadwell Stable. "She has a turn of foot that's just explosive the last quarter-mile in both her training and her races, and if she can keep finishing in 22 4/5 she's going to be very hard to beat."

Makderah has improved markedly since coming to the U.S.

"She was a good filly in Europe," said McLaughlin. "But a change of scenery and more distance has certainly helped, and you never know what effect Lasix has on a horse once they come over here."

With rain in the forecast for the weekend, the prospect of the Diana being contested over less-than-firm turf could have a major effect on the outcome of the race. That doesn't faze the confident McLaughlin.

"As long as it stays on something green she should be fine," he said.

Argentina, who was beaten a head following a rough trip in the 2006 Diana, has not started since finishing fifth in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl on Oct. 7. On Saturday, she serves as a last-minute replacement for stablemate Karen's Caper, who suffered a foot injury earlier this week, according to trainer Bobby Frankel.

"She's looking better and doing better than she was coming into this race last year, but she hasn't run for a long time and it's just a matter of how fit she is," Frankel said of Argentina. "She certainly fits with the other horses in the race, although I would have loved to have gotten a race into her."

My Typhoon finished less than a length behind Argentina when fourth after setting the pace in the 2006 Diana. She has won three Grade 2 stakes in six subsequent starts, including the Jenny Wiley and Just a Game in her last two outings. She is trained by Bill Mott.

Meribel won a pair of restricted stakes on the turf at Belmont before having her modest win streak snapped when beaten a half-length in Philadelphia Park's Dr. James Penny Memorial Handicap. She likely would have won that race had her jockey not pulled her up prematurely after misjudging the finish line.

"She was two lengths clear at the time," said trainer Christophe Clement. "It was painful."

Clement said Meribel will not start in the Diana if the turf is not firm.