by Najja Thompson
Shipping in from Penn National for owner-breeder T.L. Wise and trainer Erin McClellan, Ujjayi bested a field of seven to earn her first stakes victory capturing the $100,000 Ruthless for 3-year-old fillies on Sunday at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Breaking alertly from post 3 with jockey Tyler Conner aboard, Ujjayi was hustled to second position to the inside of Sheza Diva and 4-5 post-time favorite Miss Imperial as the opening quarter mile went in 23.02 seconds. Ujjayi assumed command at the half-mile in 46.02 with Miss Imperial in close pursuit.
As the dueling duo reached the quarter-pole, they separated themselves from the rest of the field with Ujjayi maintaining her lead by a head in upper stretch. Ujjayi, game to the wire, was able to hold off a stubborn Miss Imperial in the final yards to secure the victory by 1 3/4-lengths. Dovey Lovey, Takecharge Mirella, Enliven, Sheza Diva and She's a Black Belt completed the order of finish.
Ujjayi completed the seven-furlong distance in a final time of 1:25.18 over a fast main track.
Conner, who was aboard Ujjayi for consecutive runner-up efforts to the undefeated Please Flatter Me in the Blue Mountain Juvenile Fillies at Penn National and the Gin Talking at Laurel Park, said his filly was moving well over the Big A main track.
"The trip went a little differently than I anticipated," said Conner. "I thought maybe I'd be sitting second or third, but with the first quarter going so slowly, I figured I could just let her do her thing. I didn't want to get stuck behind a horse if I didn't have to. Once I let her go at the three-eighths pole, she was galloping so easily. I had something left at least for the last quarter mile."
"The winner was brave" said Manny Franco aboard Miss Imperial. "She never let me past her. The field was good today. I was trying to break and go, but my filly broke a couple of steps slow and the three [Ujjayi] and the four [Sheza Diva] got to the front and I didn't want to use my filly because it's seven furlongs today and I'm trying to save a little horse."
Returning $13 for a $2 win wager, the Pennsylvania home-bred daughter of Smarty Jones boosted her career earnings to $127,360. After confidently handling the surface, the winning connections are eyeing a return for her at Aqueduct in the $250,000 Busher Invitational on March 9.
"She was incredible," said McClellan. "I thought the trip was good. I was a little worried about her at the top of the stretch, I thought she was getting a little leg weary. But she has a ton of heart and just didn't want to give it up.
"I know T.L. would like to see her go two turns, so if we're invited back here in March for the Busher, we might take a shot at that. We'll give her a couple days and see how she comes out of it before coming up with a game plan."
Live racing resumes on Thursday at the Big A with an 8-race card featuring a NYRA Bets Late Pick 5 carryover of $38,520 and a single-day carryover of $19,376 in the Pick 6. First post time is 12:50 p.m.