Breeders' Cup 2014

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Whomping Willow Set for Any Limit Stakes

Gulfstream Park 615 X 400
Photo: Eclipse Spotswire

Whomping Willow might be ready to build on her early promise tomorrow in Gulfstream's featured $75,000 Any Limit Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Runner-up to a pair of future stakes winners in her first two starts last summer, the daughter of Mineshaft returned from a three-month break to finish second behind In Tune--another next-out winner--in a maiden at Gulfstream on January 12. She put it all together with an authoritative success going seven furlongs on February 16, and trainer Dale Romans is confident about her chances.            

"That race looked like it was a breakthrough race for her," Romans said. "She finished up well and ran like we'd been waiting for her to do. She'll be tough."            

Whomping Willow is owned by Mark and John Bacon and Dana Wells. They also campaign Silver Max, who famously handed Horse of the Year Wise Dan his sole defeat in 2013. Whomping Willow hasn't quite scaled those heights yet, but her connections hold her in high regard.            

"We had thought about stretching her out, but (the Any Limit) came up looking like a pretty good spot," Romans said. "We might stretch her out next or go right to the (G3 Eight Belles Stakes at Churchill Downs) on Derby Day."            

Romans is still debating the next target for Medal Count, who scored over the Gulfstream turf course in January before running an even fifth in the Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) on the dirt on February 22. The 3-year-old son of Dynaformer is owned by B. Wayne Hughes' Spendthrift Farm.            

"It wasn't terrible, but I still haven't decided what to do with him," Romans offered. "I'd like to give him one more shot (on the dirt). Mr. Hughes is kinda hedging a little bit, but we'll see how that unfolds. Maybe he'll go in one of the last major preps (for the Kentucky Derby)."            

Romans also trains a pair of colts for Donegal Racing, Cleburne and Smart Cover, that were benched after filling the exacta in the Iroquois Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs on September 7. Smart Cover recently returned to action in the Palm Beach Stakes (G3) on the turf last Saturday at Gulfstream, but showed rustiness and finished 11th. The son of Any Given Saturday will likely head out of town for his next appearance.            

"He came out of (the Palm Beach) good--it was really more of a training race than anything," Romans added. "We're thinking of taking him to Turfway next weekend."            

Iroquois hero Cleburne was scratched from the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) at Santa Anita with a sore shin. The son of Dixie Union is making quick progress since getting back on the Gulfstream worktab in February.            

"Cleburne is coming back quicker than expected," Romans confirmed.


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