Racing & Wagering

Barn Notes: Monday, Aug. 8 - PM Edition

| Churchill Downs Communications | 08/08/2011 #

In Today's Notes: Willcox Inn Got First Look by Marette Farrell, Hilary Pridham; Hawk's Girl Flies to Family Victory With True Team Effort

All In Stable's Willcox Inn, who would become the fourth horse in history to sweep Arlington's Mid-America Triple with a win in Saturday's Grade I Secretariat Stakes, may have a host of admirers now that he's one of the nation's top turf-favoring sophomores, but at the Fasig-Tipton yearling sale where he was purchased he was overlooked by almost everyone.

"Almost" is the operative word in this case, because he did catch the eye of both Irish-born bloodstock agent Marette Farrell and British-born highly regarded horsewoman Hilary Pridham.

Farrell, who has lived in this country for two decades, has developed a steadily expanding clientele of horse people since her arrival, and Pridham, whose American residency has been even longer, includes a brief stint as a jockey on her resume but has always been a sought after exercise rider and trainer since coming to America.

Over the last few years, Pridham has served as an invaluable assistant, exercise rider and adviser to trainer Mike Stidham, and when that tandem visited Willcox Inn's Fasig-Tipton sale they ran into their mutual old friend Farrell.

"Basically, at that point in the sale, I was just finishing up some work with one of my clients," recalled Farrell this week, "and I think Hilary and Mike were there somewhat by chance because they were able to get a last-minute free flight. Anyway, we'd all known each other and become friends over the years, and Hilary and I had a chance to sit down and discuss some of the horses we'd been looking at.

"Hilary mentioned one horse that had caught her eye (later to be named Willcox Inn) and at that point my knowledge of pedigree kicked in," Farrell said. "As it happened, I was quite familiar with the horse's whole family and knew it was an excellent line.

"I went and looked at the horse with Hilary and was very pleased with what I saw," Farrell said. "He was quite small, but he was a beautiful mover and he had a great eye. I think it was his eye that caught my attention more than anything, and Hilary said that was what she had noticed, too. That's how we ended up picking him out."

Farrell grew up on her father's farm in Ireland, where he bred the multiple-Group I winning English sprinter Fayr Jag. Her brother pinhooked Paco Boy as a 2-year-old in training and that horse went on to be the 2008 winner of the Group I Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot.

While still in school, Marette Farrell was a national high jumping champion and later played hockey for Ireland's National Field Hockey Team. However, her first love remained horses and following a stint with trainer John Hammond's yard in France she eventually came to the United States.

"Basically, I'm just a little Irish girl who grew up to live her dream and be around horses as a way to make a living," Farrell said, "and I'm loving every minute of it."

Incidentally, the horse that eventually became Willcox Inn was named after the historic Willcox Inn in Aiken, South Carolina. That hotel became famous in the Roaring Twenties, but has included Stidham and Pridham among its guests in more recent times when they have visited Aiken to attend the Thoroughbred sales there. Stidham, Pridham and Farrell are all part of Willcox Inn's (the horse's) ownership group.

Also, in the horse's career debut at Arlington Park last Sept. 18, it should be noted that Willcox Inn defeated Team Valor's Animal Kingdom, who went on to win this spring's Kentucky Derby.

The three horses that have swept Arlington's Mid-America Triple in past seasons are Powhatan's Tom Rolfe in 1965, Odgen Phipps' Buckpasser in 1966 and Robert Schaedle III's Honor Glide in 1997.

While Arlington Park's International Festival of Racing this Saturday remains the focus of the 2011 Chicago Thoroughbred racing season, other scenarios are playing out on the stage of life as we know it.

One of those occurred last Saturday when John Hillebrand's Hawk's Girl won the eighth race of the afternoon while ridden by Jermaine Bridgmohan.

Hillebrand, a longtime Illinois owner and breeder, was still in the hospital for Saturday's race after receiving a kidney transplant the previous Tuesday. The kidney donor was Hillebrand's daughter Angela Hillebrand Suwanski.

Angela Suwanski is the wife of jockey agent Jon Suwanski, who books the mounts of Hawk's Girl's winning rider Bridgmohan.

Jere Smith, Jr., son of Arlington's late third-leading all-time trainer J. R. Smith Sr., serves as the conditioner of Hawk's Girl, and John Hillebrand IV was on hand at Arlington for the winner's circle ceremonies on behalf of his father.