04/26/2012 4:40PM

Hollywood Park: Willa B Awesome favorite in Melair rather than Kentucky Oaks longshot

Benoit & Associates
Instead of shipping to Churchill Downs for next week's Kentucky Oaks, where she would have been an outsider, Willa B Awesome will stay home for Saturday's Melair.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – It is always welcome when a stallion gets a Grade 1 winner in his first crop, and the filly Willa B Awesome has carried the flag admirably for new California sire Awesome Gambler.

Four weeks after an upset victory in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks, Willa B Awesome carries the banner for California breeding when she starts Saturday as the top horse on a $1.1 million California Gold Rush program for statebreds at Hollywood Park.

Willa B Awesome is the 7-5 favorite in the $300,000 Melair Stakes, a 1 1/8-mile race for California-bred 3-year-old fillies. The Melair is race 6; the $300,000 Snow Chief Stakes, for 3-year-olds of either gender at the same distance, is race 8.

The fact Willa B Awesome resisted the pull of Kentucky puts her in the current minority. Two other leading California-breds – Amazombie and Rousing Sermon – have skipped the Gold Rush program and will run May 5 at Churchill Downs.

Amazombie could have gone for a repeat in the $125,000 Tiznow Stakes (race 9), but he runs in the $400,000 Churchill Downs Stakes.

Owner-trainer Bill Spawr said Amazombie could earn $250,000 winning that race, but would net only slightly more than $50,000 if he won the Tiznow.

Rousing Sermon, runner-up in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park in fall, would have been a worthy favorite in the $300,000 Snow Chief Stakes (race 8). He will go instead in the Kentucky Derby.

Willa B Awesome could have gone to Kentucky, too. After winning the Santa Anita Oaks at odds of 13-1, owner-breeder Terry Lovingier and trainer Walther Solis briefly considered the Kentucky Oaks.

Deliberations did not last long.

“If I thought she’d be the favorite, or one of the first two favorites [in the Oaks], I’d probably go,” Lovingier said. “But she’d probably be fifth choice.”

Willa B Awesome instead targeted the Melair.

“From the beginning, we were pointing for this race,” Solis said. “She’s supposed to be the horse to beat in this race.”

In the “Amazombie-less” Tiznow at 7 1/2 furlongs, Mobilized and Italian Rules are co-favorites; Stoney Fleece is a tepid favorite in the Snow Chief; and Halo Dolly is favored in the $125,000 B. Thoughtful (race 3) for fillies and mares at 7 1/2 furlongs.

Melair favorite Willa B Awesome will be tough to beat, though the notion she is a lock is news to trainer Mark Glatt. His filly Starlight Magic faced Willa B Awesome once already and came away with a victory in the California Cup Juvenile Fillies last fall.

“Everyone seems to forget that [Starlight Magic] beat her easily,” Glatt said. “But obviously [Willa B Awesome] is a different horse now, and I am at a little disadvantage from the standpoint of recent racing.”

Starlight Magic had flakes removed from an ankle and knee after the Cal Cup, and Glatt was on a tight schedule to get her a prep. She finished second March 31 in the sprint stakes, and makes her second start back Saturday. Starlight Magic, by Marino Marini, has won 2 of 5 starts and $134,780.

Willa B Awesome, meanwhile, has been going strong for a year. In addition to the Santa Anita Oaks, she won the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel and has earned $428,896. Not bad for a filly Lovingier was unable to sell.

There were no takers privately, or at auction, for a filly by first-crop stallion Awesome Gambler.

“I couldn’t get $10,000 for Willa B Awesome,” Lovingier said. “There’s a point where you have to keep them. We bought her back for $18,000 [at Barretts]. I felt would get $20,000.”

Lovingier owns 62.5 percent of Willa B Awesome; three minority partners with equal shares are Phil Daniels, Patsy London, and John Winters.

Plans call for Willa B Awesome to be freshened at Lovingier’s Loveacres Farm following the Melair, a race she is expected to win.

She had a sharp five-furlong workout Sunday.

“She is coming out of her races amazingly,” Solis said, while looking forward to the coming crop of 2-year-olds by Awesome Gambler.

“From his first group of babies that he put out there, he came with a Grade 1 winner,” Solis said. “But this group [2-year-olds of 2012] is a lot better than last year.”