07/12/2011 3:52PM

Arlington: Stidham optimistic Willcox Inn has right stuff for Secretariat

Four-Footed Fotos
Willcox Inn, winning the American Derby, seems well-suited to next month's Secretariat at Arlington.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Mike Stidham has sent out the winner in four of Arlington’s last five turf stakes for 3-year-olds. Workin for Hops won the Arlington Classic and the American Derby in 2010, a feat his stablemate Willcox Inn has duplicated in 2011, but this year, Stidham hopes he capture the big prize, the $400,000 Secretariat.

Workin for Hops turned in a fine performance in the 2010 Secretariat, finishing third behind Paddy O’Prado and Wigmore Hall, but as much as Stidham values Workin for Hops, a sharp winner of the Hanshin Cup earlier this meet, he might feel better about his chance for a sweep of Arlington’s Mid-America Triple this time around. Workin for Hops won the American Derby over 1 3/16 miles, but benefited from a perfect trip pressing a slow pace in the race, and all along looked more like a miler type than a horse who would relish the Secretariat’s 1 1/4 miles. Willcox Inn, on the other hand, debuted in a two-turn race, comes from a family of long-winded turf horses, and always has struck his connections as a horse suited to distances like 10 furlongs.

“We felt last year we had two factors going against us,” Stidham said. “Workin For Hops is very, very talented, but we were all worried about the added distance, and we had Paddy O’Prado breathing down our neck. This year, I don’t think we have either of those factors. Distance is no factor. Banned is a nice horse, but we did beat him as a 2-year-old.”

Banned finished fifth behind third-place Willcox Inn in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, but has powerfully won two straight turf stakes in Kentucky. He starts this weekend as the likely favorite in the Virginia Derby, a race the Willcox Inn camp will watch closely.

Willcox Inn, meanwhile, came out of his four-length American Derby win in good shape, Stidham said. Willcox Inn will have two or three works before the Aug. 13 Secretariat, the last of them on turf.

Workin for Hops, meanwhile, worked a half-mile in 47.40 seconds Saturday, his first breeze since a sub-par 10th-place showing in the King Edward on June 25 at Woodbine. Stidham said no obvious near-term, middle-distance turf or synthetic races exist for Workin for Hops. One race for which the gelding will be nominated is the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar.

Look for Fantasia, Tajaaweed to return

The winners of the other two graded turf stakes here last Saturday, Fantasia and Tajaaweed, will be back for Arlington Million Day if all goes well.

Trainer Jonathan Sheppard said shortly after Fantasia’s stakes-record win in the Modesty Handicap that the plan had been point for the Beverly D. if Fantasia performed well. Fantasia shipped back to Presque Isle Downs after the race and will have some time at Sheppard’s farm in coming weeks. She will return to Presque Isle to work before the Beverly D. and then travel by van back to Arlington.

The process is simpler for Arlington Handicap winner Tajaaweed, who is stabled with trainer Dan Peitz on the Arlington backstretch. Tajaaweed came out of his 1 1/2-length win Saturday “no worse for wear,” Peitz said, and is on track for a return engagement in the Million, where he finished sixth in 2010.

Alternation eyes Jim Dandy, Travers

Donnie Von Hemel’s Saratoga caravan leaves Sunday night, headed by prospective Jim Dandy starter Alternation.

Alternation hasn’t raced since scoring a good-looking if narrow win over Adios Charlie in the Peter Pan Stakes on May 14 at Belmont. Rather than pushing on to a race such as the Belmont Stakes, Alternation’s connections chose a more patient route that could include two races at Saratoga, the Jim Dandy and the Travers. Alternation, a Pin Oak Stable homebred by Distorted Humor, has been training right along at Arlington, posting six workouts between May 27 and July 9, the two most recent works coming in company. On Saturday, Von Hemel put Alternation inside another horse until the homestretch, when the other horse peeled off and Alternation went on strongly to the finish line, timed in 1:26 for seven furlongs.

“He got along real good, I thought,” Von Hemel said.

Alternation will work once more at Arlington before shipping late Sunday and arriving at Saratoga after training hours Monday. The 3-year-old filly Always in My Heart and an unraced 2-year-old filly named Try to Catch will accompany him, along with one or two other horses still to be determined. Ohio Derby winner Caleb’s Posse, who worked a bullet half-mile in 47.40 seconds Monday, is another possible traveler. If Caleb’s Posse goes to Saratoga he will be turned back to sprint racing, Von Hemel said.

Santana collects 1,000th win while leading standings

Jozbin Santana rode his 1,000th winner on Friday when he guided Clocker Bob to victory in Arlington’s seventh race. Santana is 32 and for years was a mainstay in the Mid-Atlantic region, so reaching the milestone wasn’t all that surprising. Harder to anticipate would be the fact that Santana enters this week’s action atop the Arlington jockey standings, holding a 38-37 lead over James Graham. Eddie Perez has 34 wins, E.T. Baird 33. Lurking is Junior Alvarado, who returned two weekends ago from a broken collarbone and has 25 winners from only 105 mounts. Santana has ridden 246 horses at the meet.

Santana won 19 races here last summer, his first full meet after a stint as a restaurant busboy in south Florida. Santana, recovering from an injury, rode just one winner in 20 mounts during all of 2009.

“I wasn’t expecting this, but I was praying for it,” Santana said of his Arlington success.

Santana credited agent Penny Ffitch-Heyes with helping expand his clientele this summer. “She’s helped me out a lot,” he said.