Racing & Wagering

Barn Notes: Monday, September 3, 2013

| Churchill Downs Communications | 09/02/2013 #

In Today’s Notes: Willcox Inn in Good Shape after Washington Park Win; Arlington Horse for Course Gallant Eagle a Happy Warrior

Willcox Inn has seven times graced Arlington International Racecourse with his racing presence and five of said times shown onlookers why he is arguably the best locally based racehorse.  In fact, his only two losses were in two Grade I events – the 2012 Arlington Million and 2011 Secretariat Stakes. 

With victories ranging from the facile – like his four-length runaway in the 2011 Grade II American Derby – to those like the thrilling nostril-sized margin of triumph in Saturday’s Grade III Washington Park Handicap, the son of Harlan’s Holiday has repeatedly been a source of entertainment for Arlington fans.  According to trainer Mike Stidham, the 5-year-old exited his latter effort in top shape and is looking forward to the future with his stable celebrity. 

“He came out great.  He looked good right before I left and apparently so today,” Stidham reported from California, where he saddled Terry Hamilton’s Dorsett to an unlucky run in the Grade II Del Mar Derby on Sunday. 

Like last year, the dark bay owned by Lael Stable and All In Stable will most likely head to Keeneland Racecourse after his Arlington tenure.  “We’ve always been thinking about the (Grade I) Shadwell Mile (Oct. 5) with him,” said Stidham.  “That’s our immediate thought, but we have a lot of options.  We’re hoping that Wise Dan doesn’t come back this year.”

Last year, Willcox Inn ran a stellar race to finish a fast-closing second in the Shadwell Mile, beaten only 2¼ lengths by the aforementioned eventual Horse of the Year.  In the process, he earned a career-high Equibase Speed Figure of 115 – a figure he had not achieved until Saturday at Arlington.

Being a 5-year-old horse with a fashionable pedigree and multiple graded stakes wins, retirement to a career of making little Willcox Inns is inevitably pending, but not as soon as one could assume, according to Stidham.  “We’re leaning toward one more year of training and racing with him.  Obviously we want to get over $1 million in earnings – we have ($939,543) so far.  As of right now, there’s no immediate reason to retire him,” the conditioner explained.   

With a newfound proven ability to run at a graded stakes level over a Polytrack course, we may see Willcox Inn considered for some of the top synthetic surface races.  “We would definitely be more open to try the Poly, now,” confirmed Stidham.

The trainer was also appreciative of the competition he defeated on Saturday.  “Gallant Eagle ran a monster race (to finish second).  I was worried when I saw him galloping up there on the front-end with his ears pricked and looking happy,” Stidham explained.  “But, (Willcox Inn’s jockey) James (Graham) did such a good job with the ride.  He moved when he was supposed to move and won it.”

While Stidham was overjoyed to win on his home base with Willcox Inn, he was not as happy with Dorsett’s trip at Del Mar.  “They absolutely walked out there on the lead.  Going :49 and 3/5 (for the first half-mile) at Del Mar is like going :55 at Arlington.  It was a frustrating trip, but he still made his run and only got beat a couple lengths.”

Dorsett, a developing son of Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Artie Schiller who was third in the Grade III Arlington Classic and fifth in the Grade III American Derby this summer, was ninth of 10 and four-wide after breaking from the outside post (10) for the majority of the race.  The bay colt made a strong late bid, but could only manage to snag sixth-place, beaten 2½ lengths.  “We’ll most likely be looking at the Hawthorne Derby next,” Stidham reported.

NLG Racing’s 6-year-old gelding Gallant Eagle, who ran the race of his life to finish second in Saturday’s Grade III Washington Park Handicap, came out of it in great shape, according to conditioner John Good.  “He came out of the race good,” the trainer reported.  “Obviously we were thrilled.  We kind of had him in there for a reason; I had a sneaky feeling he would run really good.

“He was just kind of peaking and he loves the track here so much.  I knew he could handle the distance,” Good continued.  “I knew it was going to come up a short field and he would have a weight break, which was key.  Those were some quality horses he was running against, but he’s definitely a horse for the course.”  The nose-loss for the son of European Champion Hawk Wing was his sixth top-two finish in seven Arlington starts.  It was also his 12th top-three finish in 15 career synthetic course races. 

Consistently with the ability to show speed throughout his career, Gallant Eagle jumped to the front in the Washington Park and slowed things down to a half-mile in :49.81 and a three-quarters in 1:14.06. “We were absolutely trying to steal it,” laughed Good.  “That was the plan. I thought if we could control the pace and get a breather into him down the backside before the second turn, the horse would be super tough and always digs in hard in the lane.”

After a career-best performance that saw Gallant Eagle run an Equibase Speed Figure of 115, 17 points higher than his previousbest, Good plans to be patient and let his charge recover.  “I will take it one race at a time. I don’t have any huge ambitious plans with him,” the conditioner explained.  “This race just kind of felt good and at the last minute we entered because it felt right.  I’ll probably look at something more like the Claiming Crown.”

Good was also quick to point out the great ride by jockey Edgar Perez, who was aboard the gelding for the first time.  “Edgar did a great job.  I was hoping he would be able to get a breather in (on the backside) and he did that with the horse, and then they came home quick – it was just a great horse race,” Good concisely concluded.