11/23/2011 3:33PM

Fair Grounds: Willcox Inn attracts investors

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Willcox Inn, with Robby Albarado riding, wins the American Derby.

NEW ORLEANS – A half-share of Willcox Inn, one of the top 3-year-old grass horses of 2011, has been purchased by the Lael Stables of Roy and Gretchen Jackson, Willcox Inn’s trainer, Mike Stidham, said this week at Fair Grounds.

Willcox Inn, stabled recently at Keeneland, has been shipped to California, where he should be a major contender Sunday in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby.

By Harlan’s Holiday out of De Aar, Willcox Inn was purchased for $50,000 by the Three Kings Stable at the Fasig-Tipton summer yearling sale of 2009. He has raced for the All In Partnership, which retains a half-interest in the colt.

Third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in 2010, Willcox Inn has won 3 of his 6 starts this year, with victories in the Arlington Classic, the American Derby, and, most recently, the Hawthorne Derby. Willcox Inn finished fourth, beaten about three lengths, in the Secretariat Stakes, his only Grade 1 appearance this year until this weekend.

Stidham said Willcox Inn would get a winter break following his race this Sunday. “Win, lose, or draw, he’s going to Mill Ridge farm like he did last year after the Breeders’ Cup. Hopefully, his first start back will be toward the end of the Fair Grounds meet.”

Robby Albarado will ride Willcox Inn at Hollywood, capping a hectic three-day schedule. Albarado was to ride here at Fair Grounds on Friday, fly to Louisville to ride Saturday at Churchill, and then go on to California on Saturday night to take the mount on Willcox Inn.

Quality fillies returning

The two best 3-year-old fillies who raced at Fair Grounds in 2011, Daisy Devine and St. John’s River, will be based here again for the 2011-2012 season, with Daisy Devine to see action this weekend in the $75,000 Pago Hop Stakes.

Trained by Andrew McKeever for owner James Miller, Daisy Devine burst from obscurity here last season to become a force in her division. She was a 40-1 shot when she captured an entry-level, two-turn allowance race on Dec. 30, and she won the Fair Grounds Oaks by a half-length over St. John’s River.

Daisy Devine finished seventh in the Kentucky Oaks and “had some issues with her feet” over the summer, McKeever said. But after a fifth-place finish in the Iowa Oaks and a post-layoff third in the Indiana Oaks, Daisy Devine returned to her longshot form, winning the Grade 3 Valley View on Oct. 3 at Keeneland, her turf debut, at odds of 43-1.

St. John’s River, meanwhile, is not nearly as far along as Daisy Devine. She hasn’t raced since finishing a disappointing fifth on Aug. 20 in the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes at Saratoga, and came back into training only on Oct. 25. She will have her first breeze here Saturday, trainer Andy Leggio said.

“We just stopped on her and gave her two months off,” said Leggio, who could find no physical explanation for St. John’s River’s poor Alabama showing.

Second by a neck in the Kentucky Oaks and winner of the Grade 2 Delaware Oaks, St. John’s River is tentatively being pointed to the Tiffany Lass Stakes here on Feb. 11, said Leggio, who has the Grade 1 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn as a major early-season goal if St. John’s River comes back in good form.

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