08/19/2013 4:20PM

Saratoga: Willet rallies to win Union Avenue Stakes

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Barbara D. Livingston
Willet and jockey Joel Rosario win the Union Avenue Stakes by 1 3/4 lengths Monday.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Willet got to the paddock in an unorthodox manner but found her way to the winner’s circle in a most conventional way, circling three wide from off the pace for a convincing 1 3/4-length decision over Clear Pasaj in Monday’s $100,000 Union Avenue Stakes at Saratoga.

The victory avenged Willet’s hard-luck nose setback at the hands of Clear Pasaj on July 25 in the Lotsa Talc Stakes.

Willet was ridden to the paddock under tack prior to the Union Avenue, a trick owner and trainer James Iselin learned from Hall of Famer Charlie Whittingham, who brought Crafty Prospector to the paddock in a similar manner before his races, Iselin said.

“She flipped over in the paddock once before and really could have gotten hurt badly,” Iselin said. “Charlie Whittingham told me about bringing Crafty Prospector to the paddock under tack, so we ride her over so she gets used to the girth, and we don’t want to change because it’s been successful. It really works.”

Willet, who finished second behind Risky Rachel in the 2012 Union Avenue, rated at the rear of the pack during the early stages of Monday’s race under jockey Joel Rosario. She quickly moved into contention leaving the backstretch, came three wide to overtake the pacesetting Clear Pasaj in early stretch, and pulled away as much the best through the final furlong. Beautiful But Blue finished two lengths farther back in third.

Willet, a 5-year-old daughter of Jump Start, paid $4.80 as the favorite in a field of six New York-bred fillies and mares. The final time for six furlongs was 1:11.36 over a fast track.

“This race is for all the small trainers at Aqueduct,” said Iselin, who has only a handful of horses stabled downstate.

The Union Avenue was just the third start of the year for Willet.

“She was off by design,” Iselin said. “We want to run here in the big races. You can’t run all winter long and expect to do well at Saratoga; it’s too tough.”