07/29/2011 3:13PM

Saratoga: Payton d'Oro looks to step up in Ruffian

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Kim Pratt
Trainer Larry Jones opted for the Ruffian with Payton d’Oro rather than the Lady’s Secret at Monmouth.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Trainer Larry Jones pulled into the Saratoga stable area here early Thursday morning with two older fillies in tow, both of whom will run in Sunday’s Grade 1 Ruffian Invitational Handicap. No, one of them wasn’t Havre de Grace.

In fact, only one of the two belonged to Jones, that being Payton d’Oro, who looks to step out from the shadow of her stablemate Havre de Grace in the $250,000 Ruffian, a 1 1/8-mile race that shares billing Sunday with the Grade 2, $150,000 Fourstardave Handicap on turf for older males.

Seven fillies and mares were entered in the Ruffian, which offers the winner a guaranteed spot in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic at Churchill Downs in November.

BREEDERS' CUP CHALLENGE: Racing schedule, replays, and past winners »

The Ladies’ Classic could feature division leaders Blind Luck and Havre de Grace. The Ruffian field doesn’t include such an imposing figure, which is one reason why Jones brought Payton d’Oro here instead of Monmouth Park for Sunday’s Lady’s Secret Stakes. An injury to Awesome Maria, who beat Payton d’Oro handily in the Ogden Phipps last month at Belmont, also was a factor.

“I thought maybe she would prefer the Monmouth track a little better than here,” said Jones, who also transported the Delaware Park-based filly Tiz Miz Sue here for trainer Steve Hobby. “With the defection of Awesome Maria this made perfect sense. I do know the mile and an eighth is fine for her.”

Payton d’Oro, who won the 2009 Black-Eyed Susan at 1 1/8 miles, was beaten three-quarters of a length by Super Espresso in the Allaire Du Pont Distaff at Pimlico on Preakness Day before running second, beaten three lengths by Awesome Maria in the Phipps on June 18. Both those races were at 1 1/16 miles.

“This being a two-turn race I like it a little better than the one we had at Belmont for this horse,” Jones said. “She’s training very well, she’s training a lot better this year than she has any year that we’ve had her.”

Payton d’Oro, who will break from post 5 under Gabriel Saez, likes to have something to run at and should find a target in either Absinthe Minded, Dynazaper, or Ask the Moon, who will run run here and not in the Lady’s Secret at Monmouth where she was also entered.

Super Espresso and Distorted Legacy would also benefit from a contested pace.

Super Espresso, owned be celebrity chef Bobby Flay, was third in the Phipps, but figures to appreciate going around two turns and the 1 1-8-mile distance.

“It looks like the race sets up really well for her; there appears to be plenty of pace,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “She’s an improving mare that might be getting good at the right time.”

Distorted Legacy also fits that description. Since being moved to the dirt by trainer Angel Penna Jr., Distorted Legacy has won two consecutive races, rallying from well off the pace both times. Penna believes the nine furlongs will suit Distorted Legacy, but she must answer the class question.

“I’m not concerned about the distance,” Penna said. “It’s the competition I’m concerned about. But she’s doing really well and now is the time to try.”

Dynazaper hadn’t run on the dirt in two years before she rolled to a front-running, 9 1/4-length victory in a second-level allowance race at Belmont on June 8. Tiz Miz Sue did finish second to Havre de Grace in the Grade 3 Obeah at Delaware.