07/20/2012 1:59PM

Arlington Park: Willcox Inn makes highly anticipated 4-year-old debut

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Four-Footed Fotos
Willcox Inn had a strong 3-year-old season, winning the Arlington Classic, American Derby, and Hawthorne Derby (above).

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – One morning earlier this summer trainer Mike Stidham pulled a proud papa act. But the mobile-phone photograph he showed off – beaming almost giddily – to a visitor wasn’t of one of his children. It was Willcox Inn pictured on the display, bay coat radiant, frame bursting with muscle.

That was several weeks ago, and on Sunday it is time for Willcox Inn to jump back into the fray. Idle since a disappointing eighth-place finish in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby last Nov. 27, Willcox Inn is set to make the first start of his 4-year-old season in the featured seventh race at Arlington Park.

Willcox Inn was one of eight horses entered in a one-mile grass race with multiple allowance conditions and an $80,000 claiming option. The race includes a few entrants lacking turf credentials and feels like it could scratch down to a smaller field.

Willcox Inn had a strong 3-year-old season, winning the Arlington Classic, the American Derby, and the Hawthorne Derby, and finishing a close fourth in the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes. At Hollywood he had a wide draw, a wide and troubled trip, and might not have been at his best physically, and on pedigree there is reason to believe Willcox Inn can improve with age. By Harlan’s Holiday, the colt is out of De Aar, a sister to later-flowering turf powerhouses like Beverly D. winner Dynaforce and Cetewayo, who won the Stars and Stripes at Arlington as an 8-year-old.

Willcox Inn had been considered for last weekend’s Arlington Handicap, but Stidham in the end decided rushing to make a tough 1 1/4-mile graded stakes didn’t make good sense. At one mile, Sunday’s allowance race appears to be on the short side for Willcox Inn, who finished second going 7 1/2 furlongs in his first start of 2011.

“A mile and a sixteenth would have been better, but we need to get him started back somewhere,” Stidham said.

Depending on scratches, Mr. Mischief might shake loose on the front end, and already this meet he has wired a pair of turf route races, the last a sharp score in the six-figure Black Tie Affair Handicap for Illinois-breds.

Torres takes off mounts

Cisco Torres, the leading rider at Arlington entering Friday’s races, took off his mounts Thursday and was set to miss Friday’s card as well, according to his agent, Allen Plever. Plever said Torres had become weak and dehydrated earlier in the week.

“I talked to him at 5:30 this morning and he told me it wouldn’t be fair to the owners if he tried to ride today,” Plever said Friday. “He tells me he’ll be ready to come back Saturday.”

Because of past positive racetrack tests for cocaine and alcohol, Torres signed an agreement upon receiving an Illinois jockey’s license last year to submit to any alcohol and drug tests requested by stewards. Torres has regularly passed such tests and will be tested again upon his return to riding, Arlington steward Joe Lindeman said.