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Union Avenue: Fourth Time the Charm for Willet

The fourth time was the charm for Willet, who came from off the pace to win the $100,000 Union Avenue presented by Northeastern Fine Jewelry and BALL Watch Co. on Monday at Saratoga Race Course.

 

Second in three previous tries at the Spa, Willet collared pacesetter Clear Pasaj at the top of the stretch and went on to a 1 ¾-length victory in the six-furlong sprint for New York-bred fillies and mares.

 

Favored at 7-5, Willet returned $4.80 for a $2 win bet, hitting the wire in 1:11.36. She earned $60,000 for the victory, pushing her career bankroll to $329,900.

 

"This race is for all the small, little trainers at Aqueduct," said winning trainer and co-owner James Iselin. "Never, ever give up. There's always a chance, right? I'm over the top. I have no words."

 

Willet ran second in the 2012 Union Avenue, and returned to Saratoga this year in the Lottsa Talc overnight stakes on July 25, staging a furious rally on the outside but falling a nose short to Clear Pasaj.

 

"She got beat a nose the last time; it's part of the game," Iselin said. "You lose a little once [in a while] to win the big ones."

 

Clear Pasaj, the 5-2 second choice who was riding a two-race win streak, sprang from the gate and sprinted to the front, leading through a quarter-mile in 22.73 seconds and a half in 45.99, with Beautiful But Blue in close pursuit.

 

Under jockey Joel Rosario, Willet was reserved in the early stages before ranging up on the outside nearing the five-sixteenths pole. Steadily advancing around the turn, she passed Beautiful But Blue and took aim on Clear Pasaj.

 

After inching clear past the three-sixteenths pole, Rosario went to the whip with an eighth of a mile to run, encouraging Willet to the wire.

 

"I tried to save ground a little bit at the beginning," Rosario said. "After that, it was easy for her. It looked like there were one or two horses with speed. I thought I'd be laying third, but they went a little bit quicker than I thought. My horse has natural speed, so she can put me in the right spot."

 

Monday's race was just the third start this year for Willet, who has been turned out by Iselin during the past two winters to point for a summer-fall campaign.

 

"She's off by design," Iselin said. "If you race hard in the winter time in New York, the money is there, but we want to run her in big races. You can't run all winter long and expect to do well at Saratoga. It's too tough."

 

Clear Pasaj, trained by Bruce Levine for AnJes Farm and ridden by Jose Ortiz, persevered for second, two lengths ahead of Beautiful But Blue. Cape Cod Carol, Galiana and Miss Valentine completed the order of finish.

 

"She kind of broke the door when the doors opened at the same moment, so I got lucky," said Ortiz. "She broke on top, but the other horse passed me and she was still fighting for second."

 

 

 

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