08/22/2012 1:20PM

Louisiana Downs: Happy Ticket next stop for Cates with Wilhelmina


BOSSIER CITY, La. – One year after his breakout summer of 2011, trainer Al Cates is at it again.

A winner of 12 races out of just 48 starters a year ago, Cates has already matched that win total this season while sending out only 41 runners with a third of the current stand still to go. While he continues to be solid in the claiming game, Cates’s trademark has become his remarkable prowess in the 2-year-old ranks.

After saddling no fewer than five 2-year-olds who were first or second in stakes last season, Cates recently unveiled a couple of promising juveniles who also appear to be destined for bigger and better things.

Wilhelmina, a daughter of Majestic Warrior out of the A.P. Indy mare Bluegrass Bliss, looked very sharp in winning at first asking earlier this month. She expanded her margin of victory in the late going after stalking the early pace. Wilhelmina’s next start is scheduled for the $100,000 Happy Ticket on the turf on the Super Derby undercard Sept. 8.

Cates is no stranger to the Happy Ticket, having sent My Gi Gi to a runner-up performance in last year’s edition. Following that effort, My Gi Gi, who at the time was owned by Wilhelmina’s owner, Richard Lynn, was privately sold to some West Coast interests. My Gi Gi has enjoyed a very good 2012, winning the Grade 2 Honeymoon Stakes at Betfair Hollywood Park while also finishing second in the Grade 1 American Oaks.

“I hated to lose her,” said Cates of My Gi Gi. “But that is the nature of the game, especially for 2-year-olds. I will say this: As a result, I bet I’ve referred at least half a dozen agents to Richard who are interested in Wilhelmina.”

Reagan’s Trinity also won her debut this month. An Arkansas-bred daughter of Value Plus, she rallied in professional fashion from off the pace to prove best at a mile on the turf. She is a candidate for the Happy Ticket as well, although Cates says that there are other options available.

“There is a nonwinner-of-two allowance on Aug. 31 that we are looking at, which would set her up for the Lady Razorback Futurity for Arkansas-breds here on Sept. 22,” he said. “We really haven’t made our minds up yet.”

Cates has a number of Arkansas-bred youngsters under his tutelage, least in part because of his Arkansas residence status.

“That is probably a good part of it,” Cates said. “I’ve got some owners who are pretty sharp. A lot of our Arkie-breds are not the stereotypical variety. They are by Kentucky sires out of some pretty good mares. Word has it that statebred maiden specials are going to be worth $53,000 at Oaklawn this spring. They kind of saw that coming.”

If there is one word that sums up Cates’s philosophy regarding young horses, it is patience. His style has resulted in a remarkable 50 percent success rate with first-time starters the last couple of years.

Said Cates: “Before I went out on my own I worked for Dan Peitz, who sees a lot of high-priced 2-year-olds. I can still hear him now. ‘You have to be patient.’ That is why I wait for them to come into their own. No giving them a race. You make sure they are healthy, fit and ready to race.”