08/26/2010 4:03PM

Maram, Phola set up to duel

Michael Burns
Mekong Melody wins the Dance Smartly after a 10-month layoff.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – The connections of Maram and Phola felt their fillies were compromised by the lack of pace when they finished fifth and sixth, respectively, in last month’s Grade 1 Diana.

With seemingly more pace and without having to face the likes of Proviso, Shared Account and Forever Together – the top three finishers from the Diana – Maram and Phola could stage a stretch duel to the wire in Saturday’s Grade 2, $200,000 Ballston Spa Stakes at Saratoga. A field of 10 was entered for the Ballston Spa, scheduled for 1 1/16 miles on the inner turf course.

In the Diana, trainer Chad Brown elected to take Maram out of her preferred closing style and had jockey Jose Lezcano put her just off the flank of pacesetting Dynaslew early on. Though she fought hard between horses in the stretch, she finished fifth, beaten one-half length under Jose Lezcano.

“I think she runs better covered up and a little further back,” trainer Chad Brown said. “He had to adapt to the pace, and I think given the stiff competition there, we were going to try and steal the race and maybe beat someone to the wire if we could. If Proviso and Forever Together are ahead of you, you’re in trouble, you’re not going to outsprint them to the wire you just try to outposition them. It probably took her out of her game a little bit.”

Brown likes shortening up in distance to 1 1/16 miles, a distance at which Maram has three wins and a second from four starts.

Todd Pletcher, who has won three of the last six runnings of the Ballston Spa, believes Phola has been compromised by slow paces in each of her last two starts. Pletcher elected not to have jockey Ramon Dominguez take Phola out of her game in either instance.

Phola has run well over turf courses that had some give in the ground, and Pletcher is hopeful that the rains earlier in the week have taken the sting out of the turf.

“I think she prefers a little more cut in the ground than she got in the Diana,” Pletcher said. “A little softer course and a little more pace than she’s got the last couple of times should help.”

Dynaslew, who set pedestrian fractions in the Diana, is back, but other speed horses such as Silver Reunion and perhaps Mekong Melody should make the pace a little more realistic in this heat.

Mekong Melody won the Grade 2 Dance Smartly from just off the pace in her first start off a 10-month layoff. She is one of two horses sent her by trainer Roger Attfield. Miss Keller, who won the De La Stakes here on Aug. 4, starts from the rail for Attfield.

Cherokee Queen was forwardly placed when she won the Dr. James Penny Memorial Handicap at Philadelphia Park on July 5.

Danzon, Strike the Bell, and Scolara complete the field.