01/03/2015 5:10PM

Elnaawi registers breakthrough victory in Native Dancer

Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Elnaawi, making his seventh stakes appearance, collects his first stakes victory under Sheldon Russell in the Native Dancer.

Elnaawi finally lived up to the potential he had long hinted at possessing by winning the $100,000 Native Dancer Stakes at Laurel Park on Saturday.

A half-brother to $1.8-million earner To Honor and Serve and Grade 1 winner Angela Renee by Street Sense, Elnaawi was purchased by Shadwell Stable for $500,000 as a yearling. He had won 4 of 14 starts coming into the Native Dancer but had yet to break through in six tries at the stakes level.

Winning jockey Sheldon Russell said after the race he tried to keep Elnaawi in early contention over Saturday’s sloppy track, and the strategy seemed to pay off as Elnaawi accelerated when set down in upper stretch and left his closest rival 7 1/4 lengths behind. Elnaawi seemed to relish the wet going.

“The race worked out perfect,” Russell said. “He warmed up good and he took a liking to the track. He broke well and put me in a great spot. I thought Stormin Monarcho was the horse to beat. When he started backing up, my horse made a huge run and we never looked back.”

Elnaawi paid $12.20 as the third choice in the 10-horse field. He covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.40.

Cerro set the pace in the Native Dancer through fractions of 24.97 seconds, 49.12, and 1:14.15 before relinquishing the lead to Cosmic Gold entering the stretch. Cosmic Gold, who had stalked the pace four wide, didn’t have the lead for long, as Elnaawi took control nearing the furlong pole.

Cosmic Gold was nailed by a half-length for second by Turco Bravo in deep stretch. Wealth to Me, who broke a bit slowly, finished fourth, a nose behind Cosmic Gold.

Stormin Monarcho, the 2-1 favorite, raced in early contention three wide while just inside Cosmic Gold, lacked the needed response when asked, but continued willingly in the stretch to finish fifth, beaten a length for second.

The Native Dancer was the second stakes win on the card for Russell, who in the previous race had won the Nellie Morse on Star Pearl.

Nellie Morse: Star Pearl pulls away

Star Pearl tracked the leaders from third, engaged Before You Know It for the lead from the outside on the far turn, and then drew off to win the $100,000 Nellie Morse Stakes by 3 1/4 lengths.

Once Star Pearl disposed of Before You Know it in upper stretch, she was home free and jockey Sheldon Russell geared her down late. Trained by Graham Motion, Star Pearl was winning her second straight race. She had won a Pennsylvania-bred allowance at Parx in her prior start.

Star Pearl paid $10.40 as the third choice in the seven-horse Nellie Morse. She covered the 1 1/16 miles in the slop in 1:46.33.

Steady N Love set the early pace on a short lead while being kept honest by Before You Know it. When Star Pearl challenged Before You Know It on the far turn, they quickly put distance between themselves and the rest of the field.

Zucchini Flower, also trained by Motion, finished third, 6 1/2 lengths behind Before You Know It.

Fire Plug: Never Stop Looking posts $51 upset

Never Stop Looking, unable to break through in second-level optional-claiming company in his recent starts, ran down Smash and Grab in deep stretch to win the $100,000 Fire Plug Stakes.

Never Stop Looking is trained by Claudio Gonzalez, who won the fall title at Laurel. Never Stop Looking raced in the two-path over the sloppy track early while several lengths off the lead. Jockey Roimes Chirinos, took him far out in the track for the stretch run and they were up in time to score by a neck.

Bakken, the 1-2 favorite, sprinted clear early, dueled on the far turn, and then tired to finish sixth. Smash and Grab, who moved up to press Bakken on the turn, continued well in the stretch to finish second.

Cutty Shark, finished with a belated bid from the middle of the track for third, a neck behind Smash and Grab. Jack’s in the Deck, the longest shot in the field at 60-1, made a menacing move to challenge for the lead three wide on the far turn but tired and finished fifth.

Never Stop Looking was timed in 1:11.81 for six furlongs. The win was his fifth from 41 starts.

What a Summer: Lady Sabelia wins again.

Lady Sabelia won the $100,000 What a Summer Stakes easier than her 1 1/4-length margin suggests.

Jockey Horacio Karamanos rated her early. Lady Sabelia took the lead with a sweeping, wide move entering the stretch, and then pulled away from 35-1 She’s Ordained, who took a brief lead outside pacesetting Winning Image on the stretch turn.

The win was the third straight and the fifth in the last six starts for Lady Sabelia, who is trained by Robin Graham. Lady Sabelia was timed in 1:12.01 for six furlongs over the sloppy track. She paid $2.60 to win.

A 5-year-old daughter of Majestic Warrior, Lady Sabelia has now won 7 of 13 starts.

“She’s had a lot of time to grow up,” Graham said. “Her success has a lot to do with us picking her spots and not rushing her.”

Sounds of the City, 19-1, finished third, 2 1/4 lengths behind She’s Ordained. Disco Barbie was 2 1/2 lengths farther back in fourth.

The 8-year-old Winning Image, making her 34th and final career start, set the pace but tired to finish sixth. She is scheduled to be sold at Keeneland on Jan. 13.