Don't ever let it be said that Dona Bruja is a mare who is set in her ways.
For her 6-year-old debut in the Feb. 10 Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes (G3T), the venerable distaffer showed up with a new dimension to her game, which yielded some sufficient swagger in her step. In a departure from her usual off-the-pace ways, Dona Bruja took control of the 1 1/16-mile test shortly after the break and showed a wicked turn off foot coming off the final turn en route to a front-running, four-length victory in the $175,000 turf race at Tampa Bay Downs.
A group 1 winner in her native Argentina, Dona Bruja has carried that class over in her five U.S-based starts since joining the barn of Ignacio Correas IV, posting wins in the Old Forester Mint Julep Handicap (G3T) and Modesty Handicap (G3T) last summer as well as a runner-up effort in the Beverly D. Stakes (G1T).
Her outing Saturday was an emphatic statement, however, that she may have found a more effective style to showcase her ability. After leading the field through fractions of :23.92 and :48.02 for a half-mile, she had grade 1 winner and even-money favorite La Coronel moving up inside of Viva Vegas to try and threaten the pacesetter around the far turn.
The savvy daughter of Storm Embrujado (ARG) had none of that, cut the corner under jockey Jose Ortiz, and opened up on her younger foe before cruising to the wire for her third graded win stateside.
"I think (going to the lead from the start) was Bruja's plan, not our plan," Correas said. "I guess she does what she wants. She has so much talent. She's had a couple of unlucky trips, but hopefully this will be her year.
"I couldn't believe we were on the lead, but she broke sharp and she was fresh, because she hasn't raced in four months. I guess that's why she went to the lead. She's amazing, and I'm the luckiest guy to have her in my barn."
Dona Bruja covered the distance in 1:40.92 over a course rated firm and returned $4.80, $2.40, and $2.10 across the board as the 7-5 second choice. As Ortiz will attest, his mount brought some sharp legs to the table for her seaonal debut, as she had not run since finishing fourth in the First Lady Stakes (G1T) at Keeneland Oct. 7.
"I was a bit nervous going into the first turn on the lead, but she was pulling me, I guess because she was so fresh," Ortiz said. "I think she is going to move forward off this."
La Coronel, who was making her first start since she won the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes presented by Lane's End (G1T) at Keeneland in October, held for second by a length over Truly Together.
"Our filly broke a little slow. If not, they probably would have been head-to-head," said Mark Casse, trainer of La Coronel. "She maybe was a little flat, but this is the beginning of the year. It's supposed to get better from here."
Bred by Ivan Roberto Gasparotto and owned by Dom Felipe, Dona Bruja improved her record to 11 wins from 15 starts with $536,568 in earnings.