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Willcox Inn Prevails in Thrilling Stretch Battle in the Grade III Washington Park 'Cap
Lael Stable and All In Stable's Willcox Inn collected his third graded stakes victory when proving best by a nose over NLG Racing Stable's longshot Gallant Eagle, getting up in for the win the final strides after that pair battled for nearly the length of the stretch in Saturday's Grade III $150,000 Washington Park Handicap at Arlington International Racecourse.
Settled by jockey James Graham off modest early splits of :24.69 and :49.81 set by Gallant Eagle, Willcox Inn began a methodical move into and around the far turn, steadily gaining ground while out wide on the final bend before drawing even with the pacesetter in the stretch. With the win, the Mike Stidham-trained Willcox Inn boosted his career earnings to $939,543 with the winner's share of $89,100 while stopping the clock in 1:49.62 and returning $6.20, $4 and $3.
“He’s very tough when he gets into a fight,” said Graham. “He loves it more than just sprinting away from them. He ran by (Gallant Eagle) and then started to wait a little bit on him. The other horse came back on him and he fought all the way to the wire – head down and he threw his nose down on it in front.”
Stidham added, “If there was ever a photo we needed to win – this was the one. This little horse, he tries hard every time. We’ve put him in some tough spots all year long. He got the job done and James did a great job.”
Runner-up Gallant Eagle ($6.80 and $4) once again proved his affinity for the Arlington Polytrack, finishing in the Exacta for the sixth time in as many tries on the local main track, and suffering only his second defeat on the surface while making his stakes debut for trainer John Good. “I had a lot of horse,” said his jockey Edgar Perez. “The other horse came to me and he came back.”
Kenneth E. Fishbein's Hattaash rallied belatedly to finish third, taking ground away from the top pair nearing the wire, but settling for the show money, beaten a nose and a neck for the win. Rider Emmanual Esquivel said, “We had a good trip. Turning for home I waited just a little bit for space, and when I asked him, he picked up. The winner just got the jump. You have to really get into that horse to get him going, and it was too late.”
Trained by Cheryl Winebaugh, Hattash earned his first stakes placing in the Washington Park Handicap, improving upon his fourth-place finish in the 2012 renewal. He returned $6.40 to show.
Mister Marti Gras, the 2011 Washington Park Handicap champion, settled off the pace and made a mild move around the far turn before coming up empty in the lane and finishing fourth. Rider Eduardo Perez said, “It was an okay trip. I just had no horse. That’s about it.”
Agent Di Nozzo, testing graded stakes company for the first time while also making his first start over a synthetic surface, was sent postward as the slight 2-1 favorite and did not appear to handle the new footing. “Not a good trip,” said jockey Shaun Bridgmohan. “My horse just didn’t handle it; didn’t seem to like the Poly. He’s absolutely and obviously a better horse than that.”
Color Me Blue completed the order of finish in the six-horse lineup.