Strong group for Auntie Mame

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Familiar foes take a welcome drop in class for today’s $100,000 Auntie Mame Stakes, a restricted stakes on the Mellon Turf Course that serves as a lead-up to the featured Fourstardave Stakes featuring Horse of the Year Wise Dan on the inner course.

Praia and Hedonemewrongsong faced off in the Grade 3 Virginia Oaks last time out and finished second and fourth, respectively. Both seek their first stakes win in the 1 1/16-mile Auntie Mame.

Praia comes off three consecutive runner-up efforts against graded company and trainer Ken McPeek is pleased with the Distorted Humor filly’s efforts in those tough spots.

“She’s really gutsy,” he said Friday morning from his barn at the Oklahoma Annex. “She really puts a lot into all of her races. I wasn’t too disappointed in any of her races except maybe Virginia [Oaks], I thought we could’ve won that. We got boxed in and didn’t get there in time. I thought we were better than the filly who won the race [Nellie Cashman], she was just coming out of a normal race. But for whatever reason we just didn’t get there in time.”

McPeek says the drop from graded company should suit his filly, who he has some big goals in mind for her later in the year.

“It should help,” he said of the drop in class, “But it still looks like it won’t be an easy race, which is typical Saratoga. I’d like to think we could set her up for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Keeneland this fall.”

McPeek also mentioned the Sept. 14 Garden City Stakes at Belmont as a logical spot for Praia before the Oct. 12 Queen Elizabeth II.

Hedonemewrongsong was a length behind Praia in the Virginia Oaks for Hall of Famer Jonathan Sheppard. The Bluegrass Cat filly finished fourth and while Sheppard said that finish was “about as good as she is,” he felt that she could have run much better with more pace.

“She just wasn’t able to quicken,” he said. “Now, if there were a faster pace up front, the horses on the lead may have backed up. But I think that a mile and a sixteenth race with a big field might give her a pace to run at.”

Hedonemewrongsong went from a maiden win at Saratoga to a sixth-place finish, beaten only 1 ¼ lengths, in the Grade 3 Jessamine Stakes last fall at Keeneland, to some time on the farm at the urging of owner William Backer.

“He has a beautiful farm in Virginia outside of Middleburg,” he said. “So we took her down to his farm and gave her a little bit of time off, have her run in the fields and get her ready for the spring.”

George Weaver, off to a strong start at the meet with five wins in 13 starts, sends out Summer of Fun. Third in last year’s Grade1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Santa Anita Park at 43-1, Summer of Fun was second by a nose last time out in the Hilltop Stakes the day before the Preakness at Pimlico. Weaver addressed some foot issues after the Hilltop.

“We were having some small issues,” Weaver said. “But it just so happened that the timing put her ready for this race. This is a good chance to get her back on track and hopefully we can become a stakes winner.”

Weaver’s future goals for the filly are similar to McPeek’s with Praia, the Garden City and Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup, both Grade 1s for 3-year-old fillies.

“The thing with her is to try to hit the most logical spots you can with her for 3-year-old fillies on the grass the rest of this year,” Weaver said, “If she performs well and earns it, we’ll try to take her out to Santa Anita again.”

The field also includes Grade 3 winners Unbelievable Dream and Silsita, stakes winners Barbie Wire, Joy, Bella Castani and Effie Trinket and Fab Flowers. Magnificent Shirl and Justoneatheguys are also eligible and Skyfall and Flash Forward are main track only.