Photo: Eclipse Sportswire
Willet, a three-time stakes winner versus New York-breds, will attempt to win her first graded stakes and defend her home court when she competes in the Grade 2, $300,000 Go for Wand Handicap for fillies and mares on Friday at Aqueduct Racetrack.
The one-mile Go for Wand, contested around one turn, was carded as the ninth race on Friday's 10-race card, which has a special first post time of noon.
Last year, Aqueduct-based Willet won the Iroquois by 9 ¼ lengths at Belmont Park before finishing a second behind Nefertini in the 2012 edition of the Go for Wand. After finishing last of five in the Grade 3 Bed o' Roses Handicap in June at Belmont to begin her 2013 campaign, Willet hasn't finished outside the exacta in four starts against state-breds.
Willet, a 5-year-old, raced twice at Saratoga, finishing second by a nose to Clear Pasaj in the Lotsa Talc overnight stakes in July before taking the Union Avenue by 1 ¾ lengths in August. In two starts at Belmont this fall, she dug in to win the Princess Dixie overnight stakes by a half-length and chased Cluster of Stars in vain when second by 3 ¼ lengths in the Iroquois on October 19.
The Go for Wand will be the final start of 2013 for Willet, with her 2014 plans not yet determined, according to her trainer, Jimmy Iselin.
"We were second in this race last year, and we're hoping to do a little better this time," said Iselin, who owns Willet in partnership with Charlotte Assoulin and Eli Gindi. "Cluster of Stars beat us [in the Iroquois] and she had been pointing for the Go for Wand [before she was retired on Thursday], but we won't have to face her this time. Now we have to concern ourselves with Baffert's filly, Executiveprivilege, and Wolfson's filly, My Pal Chrisy. At least we have one advantage: we're running in our own backyard."
Iselin said he's looking forward to the opportunity to win a graded stakes with Willet and take on Executiveprivilege, a two-time Grade 1 winner, and My Pal Chrisy, who has won three straight, all in stakes at Gulfstream Park.
"If [Willet] does win, it would do a lot for her résumé," said Iselin. "It would leave a lot of options open for her. This will be her last race of the year, we do know that. It's exciting to be in the race and to have the opportunity to face these horses."
Angel Arroyo, who rode Willet in the Princess Dixie, has the riding assignment on Friday. Willet, 10-1 on the morning line, drew post position 5.
Miller Racing's My Pal Chrisy has won three straight at Gulfstream since being transferred to trainer Marty Wolfson. After easily winning a pair of sprints against open company, the Paseana in August and Musical Romance in September, the 5-year-old successfully stretched out to 1 1/16 miles around two turns in her most recent start, taking the Sunshine Millions Distaff Preview by three-quarters of a length on November 9.
Javier Castellano has picked up the mount aboard My Pal Chrisy, who drew the rail post and was installed as the 3-1 second choice on the morning line.
Executiveprivilege began her career with five straight wins, including Grade 1 scores in the Del Mar Debutante and Chandelier, but is attempting to end a four-race losing streak in the Go for Wand.
Second by a length in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and fourth in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet to conclude her 2-year-old campaign, Executiveprivilege has raced twice this year, finishing 5 ¼ lengths behind multiple graded stakes winner and Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint runner-up Reneesgotzip in an allowance at Del Mar and fourth by 5 ¾ lengths in the L.A. Woman on October 5 at Santa Anita.
Hall of Famer Bob Baffert trains Executiveprivilege for Karl Watson, Mike Pegram, and Paul Weitman. Executiveprivilege, one of three sophomore fillies in the Go for Wand field, was installed at 7-2 on the morning line, drew post 8, and attracted the riding services of jockey Jose Lezcano.
The 5-2 morning-line favorite is Darley Stable's Centring, whose stretch run came up a head short when second to Stanwyck in the Grade 3, 1 1/16-mile Turnback the Alarm Handicap on October 26 at Belmont. Centring, a 5-year-old daughter of dual Grade 1 winner Composure, has placed in four graded stakes, including three Grade 1 races, but has yet to win a graded stakes.
Trained by Tom Albertrani, Centring will leave from post 2.
Also exiting the Turnback the Alarm are Fantasy of Flight and Royal Lahaina, respectively third and fourth. Both are 5-year-old mares who will be making their second starts for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Fantasy of Flight, who has placed in three graded sprint stakes and was fifth in last year's Go for Wand, set the pace in the Turnback the Alarm before yielding to Stanwyck and Centring. Royal Lahaina, a restricted stakes winner at 1 1/16 miles, raced evenly in the Turnback the Alarm.
"They've been very straightforward and have trained well," said Michael McCarthy, assistant to Pletcher, of Fantasy of Flight and Royal Lahaina. "I think Fantasy of Flight will appreciate the cutback in distance. The other mare, Royal Lahaina, seems like she's doing well here. They're both nice mares to be around."
The Ortiz brothers will ride Fantasy of Flight and Royal Lahaina. Irad will guide Fantasy of Flight, 6-1, from post 6, while Jose will be in the irons aboard Royal Lahaina, 12-1, from post 3.
The field also includes 3-year-olds Street Girl and Ol Donyo.