There was a slight delay in the running of Saturday’s Whirlaway Stakes for a few moments, as Norman Asbjornson, one of the six colts that originally lined up for the race, was restless in the gate and had to be scratched. Given the inclement conditions (the drizzle that had been falling on Aqueduct for much of the day turned into a steady rain by post time of the Whirlaway), the delay was more than a mild annoyance for most. The connections of the competing horses in the paddock, and those few, brave fans who were watching from outside, just wanted to get the race over with, to escape the cold and dampness as quickly as possible.
Adrian Rolls, however, welcomed the delay. To Rolls, Graham Motion’s assistant who was charged with saddling Toby’s Corner in the Whirlaway, the delay meant one final opportunity to bet the race, at what he considered terribly inviting odds.
“I saw him at 9-2, and I tried to get a bet down” Rolls reported after the race. “I just couldn’t believe he was that price.”
The speed and precision with which the post-scratch field of five was unloaded and then reloaded back into the gate, however, prevented Rolls from getting his bet in.
For Rolls, this turned out to be most unfortunate.
Still, it’s hard to muster too much sympathy for Rolls and Motion, given the manner in which Toby‘s Corner won the Whirlaway. The three year-old son of Bellamy Road fought off four rivals, the worsening conditions, and a track bias, to score by two lengths over J J’s Lucky Train. It was another 3 ¾ lengths back to Preachintothedevil in third.
J J’s Lucky Train set the pace, and was left alone for much of the early going. The fractions of 23:2 and 48:4 were solid, but certainly not brisk. When J J’s Lucky train was allowed to get away with another 25 second quarter as they hit the top of the stretch, it all but ensured that he’d have something left for the finish.
Toby’s Corner, meanwhile, beneath jockey Eddie Castro, was content to sit last for much of the race. Adrian Rolls said, after the race, that this was this plan.
“The only instructions I gave the jockey were to let the horse relax, and put him where he was comfortable, which is what happened.”
Toby’s Corner was ready to roll when given his cue from Castro, as he made a bold move around the turn. Rescindthetrade forced Toby’s Corner to the five-path, but he was still making up plenty of ground.
But now he’d have to put away J J’s Lucky Train, who’d prove to be a stubborn foe. At the eighth pole, the two were on even terms, and it seemed only a matter of time before Toby’s Corner struck the front. But the inside was the place to be on Saturday, and J J’s Lucky Train was able to keep his nose in front for much of the stretch.
Toby’s Corner, though, proved best, grinding out the win despite all the factors working against him.
“It was a closely matched group of horses,” Rolls observed. “I was a little concerned about how he would handle the sloppy track, but he did well. I thought he made a pretty good move around the bend, and thought he would get there. ”
Toby’s Corner received an 88 Beyer speed figure for his victory on Saturday. He completed his mile and one-sixteenth journey around the Aqueduct oval in 1:45.66.
The best part, though, according to Rolls, was that he saw some room signs of immaturity from the colt, suggesting that there could be room for improvement.
“He was looking around a little bit – he did that his last race, too – but he straightened right out. It was a good effort.”
Hmmm…a good effort from a three year-old colt in February. We’re supposed to let such a performance stand alone, right? And, of course, we shouldn’t dare utter, or even think about, a certain race that starts with a K and ends with a -Entucky Derby, should we?
To be fair, not even his most ardent supporter would think that Toby’s Corner stands a chance with the top of the three year-old class at the present time. But with three months to the Run for the Roses, there’s plenty of time for Toby’s Corner to make that leap into the upper echelon.
Though it might be too much to talk Derby as it relates to Toby’s Corner, it’s certainly fair to speculate about his prospects for next month’s Gotham Stakes, the first of Aqueduct’s two graded Derby preps. No less than three times during his post-race media session was Adrian Rolls asked about the future plans for Toby’s Corner, specifically as they related to the Gotham.
But the faithful assistant dutifully deferred to his boss, saying simply;
“We’ll see how he comes out of this before looking to his next race.”
Rolls refused even to say the word: Gotham
He left the rest of us to do it for him.
Photo Courtesy of Adam Coglianese/NYRA