Yes, I know Banned has looked great in winning his last two races at Churchill Downs, but anyone at Arlington Park this afternoon for Million Preview Day, has to have a similar thought as me right now … Willcox Inn is in the running to stake claim as the finest sophomore turf horse in the land.
Owned by a sizable and raucous bunch, All In Stable, and trained by Michael Stidham, the dark bay son of Harlan's Holiday turned in a superlative performance to set a stakes record while rolling home a most impressive winner in the Grade 2 American Derby. After dominating the Arlington Classic in his last start, it came as little surprise that Willcox Inn could handle today's solid field, but the way he won was a real eye-opener.
Content to sit behind the big early lead of longshot, Zoebear. Willcox Inn seemed to make a quick and authoritative move to sweep to the lead on the backstretch, but winning rider Robby Albarado, saw it differently.
“I don't think he made a bold move. The horse that was on the front stopped really abruptly midway up the backside , so we kind of inherited the lead. Someone was pressing me from from the outside so I kind of expedited it from there but he was doing it well within himself and content doing it and he showed it finishing to the wire,” said Albarado.
Whatever the case, it was visually striking as he went from about nine lengths off the lead to a length in front in the flash of an eye. Once on the lead, Willcox Inn did not have much time to relax as the rest of the field closed in, but when Albarado shook the reigns, he accelerated away. Finishing with a flourish, the 2-1 race favorite pulled clear to hit the wire four lengths the best, with late running Suntracer getting up for second. Final time for the 1 3/16 on the firm turf was 1:54.56 which bettered the old stakes record set by Lattice in 2007.
For Willcox Inn, the win marked his second win in four starts on the grass, and more importantly, he is two-thirds of the way to sweeping Arlington's Mid-America Triple. The final leg, being next month's Secretariat Stakes, where he will likely meet Banned. After seeing today's performance I would not be confident of anyone beating him in that race … Banned, or no Banned.
In the day's other big races over the beautiful Arlington turf course, Tajaaweed rallied for a 1 ½ length victory in the Arlington Handicap, while Fantasia proved best of the distaff set with an impressive one-length score in the Modesty Handicap for trainer Jonathan Sheppard. All three winners should look to parlay their victories in five week's time on Arlington Million Day.
Photos courtesy of Four Footed Photos