09/14/2002 12:00AM

Gemma's Star wins third straight in Needles Stakes

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MIAMI - Gemma's Star continued his climb to the top of the local 3-year-old division with a convincing 2 3/4-length victory over Susie's Poker in Saturday's $50,000 Needles Stakes at Calder. The Needles was originally scheduled to be run on the turf but was switched to the main track because of several days of rain in the area.

Gemma's Star got a perfect rail-skimming ride from Manny Aguilar, who recorded his third victory of the day in the Needles. The winner paid $6 after covering 1 1/16 miles in 1:46.60 seconds over a fast track.

Gemma's Star was reserved just off the early pace of Bernard's Candy and Bog Hunter, slipped through along the rail while rallying through the final furlong, and won going away. Susie's Poker circled the dueling leaders into the stretch, drew on even terms with the winner near the eighth pole, but proved no match while finishing four lengths clear of Bog Hunter for second.

Bernard's Candy weakened badly in his two-turn debut to finish fourth, followed by Russian Hand, Class of Seventy, Suave King, and Modest Lover.

The win was the third in a row for Gemma's Star, who is trained by David Brownlee for owner James Calderazzo. He defeated Susie's Poker by nearly the same margin capturing the Blazing Sword Stakes three weeks earlier.

"I was a nervous wreck when he ran out of room in the stretch but Manny [Aguilar] got him through on the inside," said Brownlee. "We think he'll run well on grass and that's what's coming up next, the Calder Derby," a $200,000 race on Oct. 12.