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Aqueduct: Willet looks to give trainer elusive graded stakes win in Go for Wand
OZONE PARK, N.Y. – When Willet won last month’s Iroquois Stakes at Belmont Park, it was the first stakes win for trainer Jimmy Iselin in nearly 20 years.
Friday, Willet will seek to give the 69-year-old Iselin his first graded win in 22 years when she starts against four rivals in the Grade 2, $200,000 Go for Wand Handicap at Aqueduct. The Go for Wand Handicap, a one-turn mile race, goes as the ninth of 10 races on a Black Friday card that begins at noon Eastern.
“It’s exciting for a small stable,” said Iselin, whose last graded win came on Aug. 23, 1990 at Saratoga in the Grade 3 Seneca Stakes with Diver. “[Todd] Pletcher and Rick Dutrow, this is business as usual. For Jimmy Iselin, this is very exciting. I can’t sleep at night.”
Willet, a New York-bred daughter of Jump Start, didn’t appear to be handling the muddy Belmont track in the early stages of the Iroquois and was about nine lengths back around the far turn.
Switched to the outside by Rajiv Maragh around the turn, Willet picked up the bit and stormed home a 9 1/4-length winner, earning a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 99.
“You always worry about them regressing off a lifetime best race, but the horse of Dutrow’s ran a better number than she did on the sheets,” said Iselin, referring to probable Go for Wand favorite Fantasy of Flight. “The fact she’s not over-raced is big. I don’t see an outward sign of anything except of her doing well.”
Willet has never been worse than third in seven career starts. She has been known to act up in the paddock, which is why prior to the Iroquois Iselin had his assistant Sue Ouellette ride Willet from the holding barn to the paddock. She will do so again on Saturday.
“She was well-behaved,” said Iselin, who claimed to have learned that trick from Charlie Whittingham. “It made a big difference.”
Willet took advantage of a contested and fast pace in the Iroquois, something she may not get on Friday as Fantasy of Flight looms the speed under Ramon Dominguez.
“That’s a concern that they’re going to go out and run very fast fractions and nobody’s going to be able to catch her,” Iselin said.
Fantasy of Flight, a 4-year-old daughter of Tiznow, came off a five-month layoff and in her first start for Dutrow she won a third-level allowance race by 9 3/4 lengths. She was still eligible for a second-level allowance race.
In her victory, Fantasy of Flight was pressed by Bessie M through a strong half-mile in 44.30 seconds yet drew off under a hand ride from Dominguez.
“She’s training unbelievable,” Dutrow said. “Since her last race she’s really accelerated her game. I love what I’m seeing from her.”
Looking at the field on paper, Dutrow believes his filly is strictly the one to catch and beat.
“That filly is in a complete zone,” he said. “Provided she breaks with the field she looks like she gets the trip.”
Dutrow also entered and plans to run Hard Life in hopes of getting her a graded stakes placing.
R Gypsy Gold, who finished fifth as the favorite in the Turnback the Alarm, and Nefertini, who defeated Fantasy of Flight in an allowance over Aqueduct’s inner track in March, complete the field.
Notacatbutallama tops Super Mario
Notacatbutallama seeks her second consecutive stakes victory when she heads a field of eight entered in Friday’s $80,000 Super Mario Stakes for 2-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on turf.
A New York-bred son of Harlan’s Holiday, Notacatbutallama came from off the pace to win the Incurable Optimist Stakes by 1 1/4 lengths, beating three of the same horses he faces in this spot.
John Velazquez rides Notacatbutallama from post 2 for trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Mike Repole.
Bernie the Jet set the pace in the Incurable Optimist but had to settle for second, and he returns on Friday. Completing the field are Dancing Lion, Noosh’s Tale, Sunlover, Lightening Cutter, James Jingle, and Holy Endeavor.
Good Luck Willet!
Fantasy of Flight is a very beautiful Animal,I know her very well and she had some mental problems, having overcome these obstacles she has improved tremendously.I wish her well on her journey to success.
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