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Mott, Sheppard Square Off in Diana

Hall of Fame trainers Bill Mott and Jonathan Sheppard have combined to win the last three renewals of the Grade 1 Diana at Saratoga Race Course, with Mott’s Proviso capturing the race in 2010 and Forever Together giving Sheppard victories in 2008 and 2009.


On Saturday, both Mott and Sheppard will be represented by new shooters in the Diana as they will respectively saddle Aviate and Dyna Waltz in the $500,000, 1 1/8-mile turf event for fillies and mares.


The Diana will be part the live VERSUS coverage from Saratoga Race Course on Saturday, which will also feature the Grade 2 Jim Dandy for 3-year-olds. The Diana, race 9 on the card, has a scheduled post time of 5:12 p.m.


Like Proviso, Aviate is a Juddmonte Farms homebred who began her career in Europe. She has made three starts in the United States, finishing third in the Grade 3 Honey Fox at Gulfstream Park in March, winning the Grade 2 Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill Downs in May, and fading to sixth in the Grade 1 Just a Game at Belmont Park on June 11, all at one mile.


The Just a Game was contested over a turf course labeled “good,” and Mott is hoping the Diana will be contested over firm ground.


“We feel that firm turf is a little better for her,” said Mott. “The ground [in the Just a Game] might have bothered her. It was a little softer than I thought it would be.”


Julien Leparoux will ride Aviate, the 5-1 morning-line third choice, from post position 7.


Dyna Waltz, who like Forever Together carries the colors of Augustin Stables, seeks her first victory in the United States, having won a listed event at Lingfield in England in May 2010.


Since crossing the Atlantic, Dyna Waltz finished second in a Keeneland allowance in April, dead-heated for second in the Grade 3 Gallorette Handicap at Pimlico in May, completed the exacta once again in the Grade 3 All Along at Colonial Downs in June, and finished a well-beaten third in the Grade 3 Robert G. Dick Memorial at Delaware Park on July 9.


“If she wins, we’ll change her name to Diana Waltz from Dyna Waltz,” quipped Sheppard. “It’s a pretty major assignment. Our horse isn’t quite accomplished in Grade 1 company. We like to support the program here and we love to run in the Diana, and it seems to fit in well with the timing of her other races.”


Although Dyna Waltz’s listed victory came at 1 7/16 miles, Sheppard believes the cutback from the Robert G. Dick’s 1 3/8-mile distance will aid the 4-year-old Dynaformer filly.


“We think that even though she has lots of stamina that the mile and an eighth is a good distance for her because you get more of a pace to run behind,” said Sheppard. “We know we’ll be a little of an outsider, and rightfully so.”


Dyna Waltz, 12-1 on the morning line, will leave from post 3 with Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado aboard.


Trainer Graham Motion has the top two choices on the Diana morning line as he will send out Aruna and Unbridled Humor in Saturday’s race.


Aruna, who was 1-1-1 in 5 starts in France, has never finished outside the exacta in the United States. In 2010, she won a Saratoga allowance, drew off by three lengths in the Pebbles at Belmont, and annexed the Grade 2 Mrs. Revere at Churchill Downs. The 4-year-old has raced twice this year, finishing second to Aviate in the Distaff Turf Mile and posting a 1 ½-length score in the Grade 3 All Along at Colonial Downs on June 18.


“She hasn’t done much wrong,” said Graham Motion, who trains Aruna for Flaxman Holdings. “I was disappointed she lost on Derby Day, but she got beat by a good filly who had a race under her belt. She seems to be in great form.”


Aruna drew post 6 as the 3-1 morning-line favorite. Ramon Dominguez, aboard for her five stateside starts, retains the mount.


Live Oak Plantation’s Unbridled Humor will put her unbeaten record at risk, having picked up her fourth career victory with a 8 ½-length domination of a July 5 Delaware Park allowance. It was the filly’s 4-year-old debut, having won three races as a sophomore, including the Memories of Silver overnight stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack in November.


“[Unbridled Humor’s] potential is unlimited,” said Motion. “She can be quite tricky to train and she has a mind of her own. She has done everything with relative ease, but it is a huge step into Grade 1 competition.”


John Velazquez will ride Unbridled Humor, the 4-1 morning-line second choice, from the rail.


The Diana attracted the top two finishers of Belmont’s Grade 2 New York on June 25, in which Giants Play held off Zagora by a head.


Giants Play, whose two career victories came in a 1 ½-mile maiden race over the all-weather at Kempton in England and in the 1 ¼-mile New York, hasn’t raced at a distance shorter than 1 ¼ miles since her second start.


“I would feel better if [the Diana] was a mile and three sixteenths or a mile and three eighths,” said Clement. “The filly is doing great and is very sound.”


Trainer Chad Brown is hoping to turn the tables on Giants Play in the Diana after Zagora attempted to close into the New York’s pokey fractions of 52.99 and 1:17.65.


“I think it’s going to come down to the trip,” said Brown. “I think if she can save some ground and get a better trip than what she has been getting, hopefully she’ll make up the difference. [In the New York], the winner got loose on the lead on us, and there wasn’t much we could do about it.”


Zagora, who entered the New York off a second in the Grade 3 Hillsborough at Tampa Bay Downs in March and a third in the Grade 2 Jenny Wiley at Keeneland in April, was tabbed at 6-1 on the morning line for the Diana. Javier Castellano will ride from post 4.


From the rail out, the Diana field also includes this year’s Grade 3 Marshua’s River heroine Justaroundmidnight; Bay to Bay, who two back won the Grade 2 Nassau at Woodbine; Mekong Melody, victorious in Woodbine’s Grade 2 Dance Smartly and Grade 3 Long Island Handicap at Aqueduct in 2010; and Romacaca, winner of three straight stakes at Gulfstream, Calder Race Course, and Monmouth Park.


The field for the Grade 1, $500,000 Diana:








Unbridled Humor (FL)

J R Velazquez


H G Motion



Justaroundmidnight (IRE)

J Bravo


P L Biancone



Dyna Waltz (GB)

E S Prado


J E Sheppard



Zagora (FR)

J Castellano


C C Brown



Bay to Bay (FL)

A Garcia


B A Lynch



Aruna (KY)

R A Dominguez


H G Motion



Aviate (GB)

J R Leparoux


W I Mott



Giants Play (KY)

R Maragh


C Clement



Mekong Melody (IRE)

A O Solis


R L Attfield



Romacaca (FL)

E T Baird


N Canani




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