10/13/2011 4:01PM

Hawthorne: Willcox Inn stands out in Hawthorne Derby

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Four-Footed Fotos
Willcox Inn is the likely favorite in Saturday's Grade 3 Hawthorne Derby.

STICKNEY, Ill. – His intended start in the Kent Stakes last month at Delaware lost to torrential rain, Willcox Inn is back in Chicago this weekend, where he’s likely to start as the favorite in the Grade 3, $200,000 Hawthorne Derby, a nine-furlong grass race.

Willcox Inn summered at Arlington, where he won two-thirds of the Mid-America Triple for 3-year-old grass horses, capturing the Arlington Classic by 2 1/2 lengths and the American Derby by four. In terms of speed figures, Willcox Inn ran even better in his most recent start, the Aug. 13 Secretariat Stakes, but he also ran into better horses in that Grade 1 race, finishing fourth behind two Europeans – Treasure Beach and Ziyarid – and Banned.

No rival of that caliber appears to exist among the nine others entered in the Hawthorne Derby, and Willcox Inn (post 1 with Robby Albarado named to ride) needs only hold form to prove formidable. Trained by Mike Stidham for the All In Stable, Willcox Inn, a diminutive son of Harlan’s Holiday, wasn’t even shipped to Delaware Park from Arlington, despite being entered in the Kent. One look at the weather forecast, which called for more than four inches of rain, told Stidham not to bother, and indeed, the Kent was rained off grass and scratched down to a minimal field. During his two-month break from racing, however, Willcox Inn has kept up a steady work pattern, most recently breezing six furlongs in 1:13.20 on Oct. 8 at Keeneland.

“He’s working great, doing good, freshened up, and ready to go,” Stidham said.

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin won the 2010 Hawthorne Derby with Yankee Fourtune and has a starter for this year’s edition in Breathless Storm. Owned by Fitriani Hay – Cape Blanco’s co-owner – Breathless Storm won a maiden race in three 2010 starts in Great Britain, but performed better since coming overseas. Fourth last March at Gulfstream in a first-level allowance race (a race in which Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom finished second), Breathless Storm enters on a two-race Monmouth Park winning streak, with victories in an entry-level allowance and in the $101,000 Jersey Derby on July 31, his most recent start. Breathless Storm’s allowance win came at Saturday’s nine-furlong distance, and he brings a solid work pattern to this start.

Crimson China, another 2010 English racer, won two of four starts and was a close fifth in the Blue Grass Stakes during the spring portion of his 2011 campaign, but he was seventh in the Virginia Derby and fifth in the Hall of Fame Stakes over the summer, and, looking to bring forth latent ability, trainer Graham Motion will race Crimson China in blinkers for the first time Saturday.

“I think he just semed to he a little cheeky in his works, like he wasn’t trying like he might,” Motion said of the equipment change. “I thought it was something I might try, and it seemed like it picked his head up a little in his works.”

Wayne Catalano has two entrants, and while Cavalero looks overmatched on paper, Pass the Dice has won all three of his starts – including a last-out score over older horses at Arlington – and might still be improving.

“He’s going to make another step forward it looks like to me,” Catalano said.

Pass the Dice worked five furlongs in a bullet 59 seconds on Sept. 28 and followed that up with a solid six-furlong drill Oct. 8.

“Those were good works,” Catalano said.

Derby Kitten – whose connections, Mike Maker and Ken and Sarah Ramsey, won the Hawthorne Gold Cup last week – might also attract some betting support, but appears to be a better horse on synthetic surfaces.