08/31/2013 6:14PM

Arlington: Willcox Inn's nose hits wire first in Washington Park Handicap

Four-Footed Fotos
Willcox Inn (5), with James Graham aboard, launches his winning rally to just beat Gallant Eagle in the Washington Park Handicap.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. -- Willcox Inn had taken three tough stakes losses this year, but Saturday at Arlington he came out on the right side of things in the Washington Park Handicap. Locked in a stretch dogfight with upstart Gallant Eagle, Willcox Inn, under a vigorous drive by James Graham, struck the front a stride before the finish and won by a nose.

“The more I asked, the more he gave. He stuck his neck out and put his head down at wire,” Graham said. “Thank God we were on the good side of the photo.”

Willcox Inn came into the Grade 3, $150,000 Washington Park winless this season in five races, all stakes. He didn’t show his best in the United Nations or the Fair Grounds Handicap, but with better luck might have won the Connally, the Mervin Muniz, and the Dixie. He raced here Saturday rather than in the Bernard Baruch only because transport to Saratoga turned tricky, and the Washington Park, Willcox Inn’s first start on an all-weather surface since spring 2011, provided an overdue win.

But just barely. Gallant Eagle, a horse coming out of a long string of races open to $5,000 starter-allowance horses or $10,000 claimers, made an easy lead under Edgar Perez, setting splits of 24.69 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 49.81 for the first half, and he turned into the stretch with plenty left.

“When the other horse came to him, he fought back,” Perez said.

The other horse was Willcox Inn, who was stuck two or three paths off the rail throughout the 1 1/8-mile race on a day when the local Polytrack favored inside paths. Given the lack of pace, Willcox Inn’s trip, and a 10-pound weight spread, the narrow victory probably was better than it appears at first glance. Willcox Inn, the 2-1 second choice, paid $6.20 and was timed in 1:49.62 for 1 1/8 miles. Gallant Eagle, a 10-1 chance, finished only a neck in front of 12-1 shot Hattash, who saved ground and swung out at the top of the stretch, but couldn’t quicken in time to catch the top two. Mister Marti Gras, the 2011 Washington Park winner, finished fifth, followed by favored Agent Di Nozzo and Color Me Blue.

Agent Di Nozzo, making his synthetic-surface debut, struggled over Polytrack.

“He spun his wheels the whole way around,” said jockey Shaun Bridgmohan.