R Naja was strong every step of the way in taking the 60th edition of the $102,200 Star Shoot Stakes, Sunday at Woodbine.
Trained by Michael Stidham for owner DARRS Inc., the Exchange Rate dark bay came into the six furlong Tapeta sprint for three-year-old fillies off a gutsy nose score at 17-1 over (about) 5 ½ furlongs on the Fair Grounds turf on February 10.
Red Lodge and R Naja, under Luis Contreras, dueled through the opening quarter in :22.57 with mutuel favourite Will She well-spotted just to their outside.
The duo continued to tussle through a half-mile :44.99, before R Naja seized command in mid-stretch and braced for the challenges of Will She and late-charging Sister Nation. The now three-time winner (from seven starts) easily fended off her foes to notch a comfortable 1 ¾-length score timed in 1:10.33. Sister Nation was second, while Will She was another 1 ½-lengths back in third.
Contreras was pleased with determined effort from the Florida-bred, who was making her Canadian debut.
“He (Stidham) talked to me,” said Contreras. “He told me to go to the lead and don’t look back.”
And that’s just what the 31-year-old champion rider did.
“The wind in the backstretch, it kind of helped me a lot,” he noted. “It was behind us. She was relaxed. I just left her a couple of lengths outside of the other horse (Red Lodge). She was still running. She never stopped. At the head of the stretch, the wind was very strong. I just tried to stay low in the saddle.”
R Naja made five starts in 2016, finishing second in her career bow at Arlington in August. She broke her maiden at Fair Grounds in November, another wire-to-wire triumph, a 2 ¼-length victory at six panels on the dirt.
Bred by El Batey Farm, R Naja picked up the winner’s purse of $60,000 for her connections.
Sent off at 8-1, she paid $19.50, $7.90 and $4, combining with Sister Nation ($5.40, $3.10) for a $94.10 exactor. Will She ($2.10) rounded out a $285.80 triactor. A $1 Superfecta (Goldrush Glory) returned $512.25.