10/15/2011 8:38PM

Hawthorne Derby: Willcox Inn remains dominant turf horse in Chicago

Four-Footed Fotos
Willcox Inn, under Robby Albarado, wins his third major turf stakes of the season in the Hawthorne Derby.

STICKNEY, Ill. – The Mid-America Triple, Arlington’s loosely linked series of 3-year-old turf stakes, Willcox Inn couldn’t pull off, but Saturday at Hawthorne, Willcox Inn won for the third time in what might – even more loosely – be termed the Chicago Quadruple, easily capturing the Hawthorne Derby.

First in the Arlington Classic and American Derby, Arlington’s first two stakes for 3-year-old grass horses, Willcox Inn could only finish fourth in the $500,000 Secretariat, the final Mid-America Triple race. Back in Chicago this week after recording his two most recent works at Keeneland, he got a perfect trip under Robby Albarado and made the most of it, drawing away in upper stretch to post a four and one-half length victory in the Grade 3, $200,000 Derby.

Willcox Inn, who paid $4.20 as the favorite, was followed home by Suntracer, also the runner up in the Arlington Classic and American Derby.

“I’ve had enough of Willcox,” trainer Chris Block said just after the race. “We’re going to try something else. 

Block spoke with a smile. Suntracer had run his race, he realized, and Willcox Inn – for now, at least -- is a better horse.

“That was a serious race he ran today,” said Albarado, who began riding Willcox Inn this past summer at Arlington.

Willcox Inn would’ve started Sept. 24 at Delaware in the Kent Stakes, but with the forecast of heavy rain that would rain the Kent from turf to dirt, Willcox Inn stayed at Arlington, instead taking the Hawthorne Derby as a target.

“If anything, that extra little break might have helped him,” said Mike Stidham, who trains Willcox Inn for a partnership called the All In Stable.

Rail drawn, Willcox Inn rated in sixth and seventh as longshot Legendary King laid down moderate fractions of 24.12 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 48.47 for the first half. Friendly Banter, another longshot, tracked the pace, with Crimson China third and Breathless Storm, the 3-1 choice, widest among the stalking group. Albarado, meanwhile, had Willcox Inn tucked along the fence and stayed there around the far turn. Gearing up for a final burst, Willcox Inn gained on the pace-setters past the three-furlong marker, came between horses while two paths wide turning for home at the quarter pole, made the lead as he straightened for home, and drew off steadily thereafter.

Friendly Banter held third, a neck behind Suntracer, and was followed by Cavalero, Crimson China, Derby Kitten, previously unbeaten Pass the Dice, Legendary King, Lethal, and Breathless Storm, who raced very wide around the second bend. Winning time for one and one-eighth miles on firm turf was 1:48.97. 

Stidham said Willcox Inn, a son of Harlan’s Holiday – De Aar, could be pointed to the Nov. 27 Hollywood Derby.