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” 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
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
“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
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.