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Willcox Inn Chases History

4 November 2010: Willcox Inn, trained by Michael Stidham and to be ridden by jockey John Velazquez, during work outs for the 2010 Breeders Cup at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.(Scott Serio/Eclipse Sportswire)

All In Stable’s Willcox Inn, hero of the prestigious Arlington Classic May 28 and the Grade II American Derby July 9, will breeze five-eighths Sunday morning in a tune-up for the Grade I Secretariat Stakes Aug. 13 and a possible sweep of Arlington’s Mid-America Triple.


“I watched the (Grade II) Virginia Derby (July 16),” said Willcox Inn’s trainer Mike Stidham Saturday morning during training hours, while speaking of his attempt to assess Willcox Inn’s competition in the upcoming Secretariat.  “I thought (Stuart Janney III’s) Air Support and (Glen Hill Farm’s) Banned (first and second Va. Derby finishers) both ran very well and both of them finished up strong.”


Should Willcox Inn outrun his competition and win the $400,000 Secretariat on the second Saturday in August, he would become the fourth in Arlington history to sweep the Triple.


The first horse to sweep the Mid-America Triple was Powhatan’s Tom Rolfe in 1965, when the entire series was contested on the main track.  That year, the $100,000 Chicagoan, run at 1 1/8-miles, kicked off the series; the $100,000 Arlington Classic, contested at one mile, was the middle leg; followed by the American Derby a 1 1/4-miles.


The Ribot colt had finished third in the Kentucky Derby that spring after being blocked turning for home, but was coming again in the late stages.  He had won the Preakness and then finished second in the Belmont after leading in the final furlong.


Given a breather after the Triple Crown, Tom Rolfe had resumed preparations for the Mid-America Triple by winning the $50,000 Citation Stakes at Arlington.  Jockey Bill Shoemaker, who had been inducted into the Hall of Fame seven years earlier, had replaced Ron Turcotte as the rider for Tom Rolfe for the Triple, and on Aug. 7, the pair won the Chicagoan in a time of 1:47.2, a fifth of a second off the track record of Kerr Stable’s Round Table.


Sent back at the one-mile distance Aug. 28 for the Arlington Classic, Tom Rolfe got the eight furlongs over a dull track in 1:34.4 while carrying 124 pounds.


The American Derby came on Sept. 13, and once again, although carrying 124 pounds with the rest of the field at 114, Tom Rolfe was up to the task, touring the Derby distance in 2:00.3, taking a tick off the record held by R. C. Ellworth’s Prove It.


Earlier that year, Tom Rolfe’s owner, Raymond Guest, had been appointed Ambassador to Ireland and he had not seen his colt accomplish the Mid-America Triple  A decision was made to send the colt to France for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe so that Guest could see Tom Rolfe compete.  Asking Hall of Fame trainer Frank Whiteley Jr.’s charge to go clockwise after a counterclockwise career proved too much to overcome.  Tom Rolfe failed to switch leads and finished sixth behind the European champion Sea-Bird.


The following year, in 1966, the Arlington Classic was the first leg of the Triple, and enjoyed one of its finest renewals, featuring Kentucky Derby winner Kauai King, owned by Michael Ford; and Jersey Derby winner Crème de la Crème, who raced in the silks of Bwamazon Farm.  But it was Ogden Phipps’ Buckpasser, who had been sidelined from the Triple Crown after winning the Flamingo that winter, who was the horse to beat.


A son of Tom Fool, Buckpasser had prepped for the Mid-America Triple under the guidance of Hall of Fame trainer Eddie Neloy by winning the $50,000 Leonard Richards at Delaware.  After allowing stablemate Impressive to set blistering early fractions that included 1:06.3 for three-quarters in the Arlington Classic, Buckpasser won by getting the mile in 1:32.3.


Buckpasser stayed at Arlington to win the Chicagoan, went back to New York to outduel fellow brilliant sophomore Baffle, owned by King Ranch, in the Brooklyn Handicap against older horses, and then returned to Chicago to win the American Derby by a neck.


Buckpasser eventually ran his victory streak to 13, and when it was broken, it was because he had been asked to switch to the grass for the first time in his career in Belmont’s 1967 Bowling Green Handicap.  Carrying 135 pounds, Buckpasser finished third behind two grass specialists.  Finishing second was the South African import Assagai and the winner was Buckpasser’s stablemate Poker, an appropriate name for a son of the grass sire Round Table.


In 1997, Robert Schaedle III’s Honor Glide became the third horse to sweep the Mid-America Triple after a gap of 31 years, and that Jim Day trainee has been the only horse to accomplish the feat in its modern all-turf format.  Interestingly, Day’s daughter Catherine Day- Phillips saddled Kingfield Farm’s Canadian-bred Jambalaya to win the Arlington Million 10 years after her father’s accomplishment in the Triple.




Stone Farm, John Adger, Oakcrest Farm and Mike Stidham’s Upperline, heroine of last season’s Grade III Arlington Oaks, will breeze five furlongs Sunday morning in preparation for Arlington’s Grade I Beverly D. Stakes Aug. 13, sister race of the Arlington Million.


“She’s doing great, training super and looks good mentally and physically,” said trainer Stidham Saturday morning.





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