by Keith McCalmont
Ujjayi will look to make her New York debut a winning one in Sunday's 42nd running of the $100,000 Ruthless, a seven-furlong sprint for sophomore fillies, at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Trained by Erin McClellan for owner-breeder T.L. Wise, the Pennsylvania-bred dark bay daughter of Smarty Jones, named for a breathing technique in yoga, won in style in her August 3 debut in an off-the-turf sprint at Laurel Park by an impressive 7 ¾-lengths.
"I was expecting her to run well, but not to win by as many lengths as she did," said McClellan. "It worked out and hopefully we'll get to see her on the grass this year."
Ujjayi didn't make her second career start until some three months later, due to a shin issue, when second on November 21 in the Blue Mountain Juvenile Fillies, a six-furlong sprint restricted to Pennsylvania-breds in which she finished second to the undefeated Please Flatter Me at Penn National.
"She was okay coming out of her race, but we two-minute licked her one morning and she was a little ouchy after that. She X-rayed great but we still gave her a little bit of time off," said McClellan.
Last time out, Ujjayi again squared off against the formidable Please Flatter Me in the Gin Talking at Laurel Park and finished a strong second at odds of 18-1 in a 10-horse field.
"She wasn't able to get into the Blue Mountain without running into Please Flatter Me and then she ran into her again in Maryland, but at least she's running second to what looks to be a really nice filly," said McClellan. "I'm happy with both those efforts. I'm hoping coming into this race she'll be a little big tighter than she was going into that last race in Maryland"
Ujjayi, who will be piloted by Tyler Conner from post 2, breezed four furlongs in 47.70 seconds on January 18 at Penn National but has spent this week in the barn due to inclement weather at her home track in Grantville, Pennsylvania.
"We're coming into this race shed row-ing, other than her work last week. It's certainly not ideal, but hopefully she has enough bottom in her," said McClellan. "I'm not worried about her being fit enough, it's just not ideal to not be able to train the way you want to the week going into a race like this."
To win the Ruthless, Ujjayi will have to best a field of seven that includes graded stakes placed Enliven and the improving Miss Imperial.
Godolphin homebred Enliven, by Ghostzapper out of the multiple Grade 1-winner It's Tricky, graduated at second asking before completing the exacta in the Grade 3 Tempted, a one-turn mile at the Big A.
Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, Enliven then stretched out to nine furlongs in the Grade 2 Demoiselle and finished a distant fifth. She will turn back to seven furlongs on Sunday.
"She's been doing really well and we're hoping a cutback in distance helps her," McLaughlin said. "We think it might suit her better. She's been doing everything right. She's doing really well, and we're just hoping seven-eighths helps."
Enliven will break from the inside post under Dylan Davis.
McLaughlin will also saddle Takecharge Mirella for owner Big Dom Racing Stable. The maiden winner, to be piloted by Jose Lezcano from post 5, finished fourth last out behind Ruthless rivals Miss Imperial and Dovey Lovey.
Miss Imperial, a winner of two of three starts, graduated at second asking at Churchill Downs on November 16 when in the care of Hall of Fame conditioner Steve Asmussen. The Into Mischief filly was purchased privately following the maiden win from Susan Montanye, who has retained a share in ownership, by Michael Dubb, Madaket Stables, David Simon and Bethlehem Stables.
In her first start for new connections, Miss Imperial opened up a five-length lead at the top of the lane in a six-furlong optional claiming sprint over a muddy Aqueduct main track and held on to win by one length.
Manny Franco has the call for Miss Imperial's stakes debut from post 6.
Completing the field are Dovey Lovey, from post 2 under Rafael Hernandez for trainer Gary Contessa and owner Lee Pokoik; Sheza Diva out of post 4 under Hector Rafael Diaz, Jr., for Alejandro Maymo and owner Alex Kazdan; and She's a Black Belt from post 7 with Luis Reyes aboard for trainer Michelle Nevin and Jay Emm Ess Stable.
The Ruthless is slated as race eight on Sunday's nine-race card. First post time is 12:25 p.m.