08/23/2012 4:10PM

Saratoga: Zagora should appreciate firmer turf in Ballston Spa

Barbara D. Livingston
Zagora (right) works in company with Dream Peace at Saratoga. Zagora comes into the Grade 2 Ballston Spa off a third in the Diana.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Zagora may have lacked her usual closing punch earlier this summer in the Grade 1 Diana, but trainer Chad Brown is confident she’ll make amends when topping a stellar field set to go 1 1/16 miles Saturday at Saratoga in the Grade 2, $250,000 Ballston Spa.

Zagora raced within perfect striking position of the leaders but did not kick on through the stretch, ultimately finishing third behind the recently retired Winter Memories, in defense of her title in the Diana. The outing was the first for Zagora, a 5-year-old Green Tune mare owned by Martin Schwartz, since she captured Pimlico’s Grade 3 Gallorette 10 weeks earlier.

“She probably needed the race,” Brown said. “And judging from all the races she’s run since I’ve had her, she’s probably better on firm ground.”

The Diana was decided over a turf course officially designated as good on July 28.

“She’s got a quick move this filly when she’s on ground that she likes, and she’s won some nice races at a mile and one-sixteenth,” Brown said. “This is a solid race and totally different circumstances now that we’re on firm ground than the Diana. She’s doing great, and if she’s not the horse to beat, she’s definitely one of them.”

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Zagora is one of three horses in the Ballston Spa exiting the Diana, along with Tapitsfly and Hungry Island, the fourth- and fifth-place finishers, respectively.

Tapitsfly became a Grade 1 winner for the first time in her previous start, when leading throughout to capture the one-mile Just A Game. She again set the pace in the Diana but had little left once settling into the stretch.

Tapitsfly must carry high weight of 123 pounds under the conditions of the Ballston Spa.

Hungry Island turned in a very disappointing performance, according to trainer Shug McGaughey, when never threatening the leaders in the Diana. Hungry Island won Churchill Downs’s Grade 2 Distaff Turf Mile on Kentucky Derby day and finished third in the Just A Game in her two prior starts.

“I was extremely disappointed about her race in the Diana, it was the only time she’d done that,” McGaughey said. “And it shouldn’t have been the wet track, because she’s run well on a giving track before. I don’t know why she ran that way that day. Johnny [Velazquez] said when he went to ask her, he didn’t have any horse. She’s trained fine since then. I’m going to have to throw that race out, right now, unless she does it again on Saturday.”

Summer Soiree, like Tapitsfly, is a Grade 1 winner and likes to be either on or near the lead but has not started since finishing second in Hollywood Park’s Grade 1 Matriarch nine months earlier. Summer Soiree became a Grade 1 winner for the first time a year ago after parlaying a stalking trip into a half-length victory in the nine-furlong Del Mar Oaks.

Trainer Christophe Clement is hoping Ruthenia can shake off a training mishap when stepping up against Grade 2 competition for the first time Saturday. Ruthenia was working inside stablemate Right One over the Oklahoma turf course on Aug. 15 when she suddenly shied from that rival and struck the inner rail. Fortunately, Ruthenia was able to keep her feet and even managed to complete the eventful breeze in 51.20 seconds.

Ruthenia opened her 2012 campaign with a pair of victories that included a come-from-behind, one-length decision in Monmouth Park’s Grade 2 Violet but has not started since finishing fourth as the favorite over the same course in the Grade 3 Eatontown Handicap on June 30.