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BLINKERS ON, BLINKERS OFF
The shades just weren't for Win Willy. So for the Grade 3, $150,000 Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn on Saturday, trainer Mac Robertson plans to remove blinkers. He would like to see another big stretch run from the horse a la his 56-1 upset in last year's Grade 2 Rebel, and he believes the blinkers that were added two races ago might be inhibiting Win Willy's style.
Win Willy did win his comeback in first start in blinkers, sitting about three lengths off the pace and then pouncing in an Oaklawn allowance Jan. 21. It was his first out since October, and he has raced once more, finishing second to wire-to-wire winner Racing Bran in here Feb. 6. Win Willy sat about four lengths off the pace, then finished about four lengths back at 4-5.
"He was laying close to a slow pace, and it kind of took away from his punch when they went that slow," Robertson said. "Either he gets a pace and has something to run at, or they'll put someone on the lead, and watch him win again.
"I think he wants to get 10, 12 lengths back. I'm not going to take my horse's running style away because of what other people do, so blinkers will come off and he'll just make the one run. He looks like a one-run horse, a three-eighths-of-a-mile-run horse. When he lays a little closer down the backside, it seems like it's taking away from the last eighth of a mile."
Robertson initially put the blinkers on Win Willy because he was far off a slow pace in his fifth-place finish in in October.
"I was just kind of wanting to see if he had the same punch if he laid closer, and he doesn't," Robertson said. "So, we'll take them off of him and hopefully he'll get back 10, 12 lengths, and if they go too fast, it will help him."
Win Willy could get a decent setup in the Razorback. Others under consideration for the race include Racing Bran; Acting Zippy, the front-running winner of the Grade 2 San Marcos at Santa Anita.
Jockey Cliff Berry, the regular rider of Win Willy, started off last week with a $75 winner for trainer Joe Petalino. And things just got better from there. Berry won the weekend's lone stakes race, the $50,000 Mountain Valley, with Comedero on Feb. 27.
The next day, he also took the feature, an allowance at a mile, with a pickup mount, Flying Private. The horse was making his first start since the Belmont Stakes last June. Flying Private took the lead in the stretch and then drifted late, but under a strong ride from Berry held for a head win.
"He was tired," trainer D. Wayne Lukas said of Flying Private. "I told Cliff, 'I'll take you to the quarter pole, but the quarter pole to the wire you're on your own.'
"It was a comeback race," Lukas added. "He was not ready to go a foot further than he went, but his class and his determination let him win."
Flying Private had his left front shoe reset in the paddock before the race, but that had no bearing on his drifting out, said Lukas. Flying Private was the runner-up in last year's Mountain Valley, and would go on to finish fourth in the Preakness.
Comedero ran his competition off their feet in this year's Mountain Valley, when he set fractions of 21.88 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 45.55 for the half-mile before covering the six furlongs in 1:10.22. He barreled home by four lengths, and the field of 3-year-olds who ran close to him early ended up finishing seventh, eighth, and ninth.
"He was impressive," said Michael Stidham, who trains Comedero, a son of Posse.
The Mountain Valley was expected to be Comedero's springboard to the $50,000 Rainbow for 3-year-old Arkansas-breds at Oaklawn on March 28. Given the kind of performance he turned in, however, his connections are keeping all of his options open.
"We're certainly looking at the Arkansas-bred race that comes up in a month," said Stidham, who trains Comedero for Peter Redekop. "There's other races that we're also looking at for more money. We're just going to have to sit down and discuss it with Mr. Redekop. We're going to have to map out a plan."
WINNING THE RATING GAME
Follow the Leader, who covered six furlongs in 1:10.40 when he won his maiden at Oaklawn on Feb. 11, came back and beat winners in his first attempt Feb. 25. He rated behind the leaders while stretching out to a mile for trainer Lynn Whiting and jockey Calvin Borel.
"He did things right," Whiting said. "We wanted to encourage him to settle and relax.
"We want him to continue to relax and not get too speed-oriented, and he's handled his lessons well.
"Calvin was most impressed with him the other day. The pace was brisk in front of him, and he said he just went to them so easy. He shook him up a little bit leaving the three-sixteenths pole. He said he'd been on cruise all the way, and he just wanted to be sure that he got something from his race."
Follow the Leader, a son of Smarty Jones, could see stakes action this meet at Oaklawn.
"I'm hopeful that he would be ready for a race like the Fifth Season," Whiting said of the $100,000 race for older horses at a 1 1/16 miles on April 8.
ON THE STAKES DOCKET
Aside from the Razorback Handicap, a prep for the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap, the Saturday card will host the Grade 3, $150,000 Azeri. For fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles, the Azeri is the local prep for the Grade 1 Apple Blossom here April 9. Among the possible Azeri starters are Afleet Deceit, Euphony, Spirit Seeker, Superior Storm, Taptam, and War Echo.
HORSES TO WATCH
Trainer: Tim Ritchey
Last race: Feb. 28, 6th
Finish: 1st by 4
She established herself as the early favorite for the $50,000 Rainbow Miss when she dominated a large field of older rivals in a first-level allowance sprint. The race was for Arkansas-bred fillies and mares, and she stalked the pace before sweeping past her rivals to a clear win. The Rainbow Miss, for 3-year-old fillies bred in Arkansas, will be run March 27.
Trainer: Martin Rouck
Last race: Feb. 27, 9th
Finish: 6th by 15
She took on males in the $50,000 Mountain Valley for 3-year-olds and closed from last in what was her first start since November. She has won from on and off the pace, and - like a number of Mountain Valley starters - look for her to come back and run well out of what was a quick race that featured a quality field led by Comedero.
Trainer: Terry Brennan
Last race: Feb. 28, 8th
Finish: 2nd by 2 1/2
A consistent sort, she tried hard to get to a wire-to-wire winner in a $10,000 conditioned claiming sprint. Making her task even more difficult was that she broke from post 12. She launched a strong bid on the turn and never stopped running through the lane. She definitely has heart.