07/28/2011 1:23PM

Saratoga: Diana looks wide open

Tom Keyser
Zagora was beaten by just a head in the Grade 2 New York Stakes.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Trainer Chad Brown, whose Zagora figures to be among the favorites in Saturday’s $500,000 Diana, may have summed up the Grade 1 race for fillies and mares best when he said, “It’s an evenly matched field. It’s going to take some racing luck to win. You need to work out a trip.”

Zagora has not had much racing luck or been able to work out the right trip in each of her three starts since joining Brown’s barn after launching her U.S. career with a second-place finish last fall in Keeneland’s Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup. That performance was the closest any member of the Diana field has come to winning a Grade 1 race.

“It’s frustrating that we haven’t won a race with her yet,” said Brown. “She’s been a little unlucky so far, but that’s turf racing at this level. But she’s run well for me in all three starts so far, and I’m happy with that.”

Zagora was beaten a neck after gaining a short advantage through midstretch making her 2011 debut in Tampa Bay Downs’ Grade 3 Hillsborough. She followed that effort with a wide-running third in the Grade 3 Jenny Wiley at Keeneland and most recently was second, beaten a head by Giant’s Play, in Belmont’s Grade 2 New York on June 25.

Zagora will be ridden for the first time in the 1 1/8-mile Diana by Javier Castellano. Ramon Dominguez, who has been aboard Zagora in two of her three starts for Brown, will instead take his regular seat aboard Aruna for trainer Graham Motion. Aruna is one of two fillies Motion will run in the Diana, along with the undefeated Unbridled Humor, who will have the services of John Velazquez.

The remainder of the Diana field includes Justaroundmidnight (Joe Bravo), Dyna Waltz (Edgar Prado), Bay to Bay (Alan Garcia), Aviate (Kent Desormeaux), Giants Play (Rajiv Maragh), Mekong Melody (Alex Solis), and Romacaca (E T Baird).

Motion’s pair of Aruna and Unbridled Humor have won 8 of 9 starts between them since last September. Aruna, who began her career in France, has suffered only one setback in five tries since joining Motion’s barn at 3, the lone U.S. blemish on her record coming at the hands of Aviate in Churchill Downs’ Grade 2 Distaff Turf Mile.

Unbridled Humor is perfect in four starts for Motion. She capped off her 3-year-old season with a game win in Aqueduct’s Memories of Silver Stakes and opened her 2011 campaign with a one-sided allowance win earlier this month at Delaware Park.

“The Diana has been our first goal with Aruna since starting the year,” said Motion. “Unbridled Humor is kind of a work in progress, she’s tricky to train but very talented. This will be a big step up with her. Obviously Aruna is a bit more experienced, but at this point I couldn’t split them if you asked me which of the two was best.”

Aviate will look to rebound from a disappointing sixth-place finish in the Grade 1 Just A Game that followed her 1 1/2-length tally over Aruna in the Distaff Turf Mile. Trainer Bill Mott said he hoped the give in the ground at Belmont on June 25 was the reason for her poor performance in the Just A Game.

Romacaca rallied from off the pace to win Monmouth Park’s Ms. Liberty for her fourth straight win on July 3 but may prove the one to catch in returning to Grade 1 company for the first time since finishing fourth a year ago in the Beverly D.