The stakes portion of Saturday’s 2012 Showcase Day card at Belmont Park got started off with a bang when Willet, a lightly-raced 4-year-old daughter of Jump Start, left the contentious field of the $150,000 Iroquois Stakes far in the rearview, romping to a 9 1/4-length victory at 8-1 odds.
The seven-furlong Iroquois began with a familiar sight: Agave Kiss running away on the front end. Risky Rachel, 5-2 second choice, chased a length and half back in second, while Beautiful But Blue (3-1) and Great Gracie Dane (19-1) ran together in third and fourth four lengths from the front. Willet raced fifth, six lengths off the lead.
As Risky Rachel drew even with Agave Kiss rounding the far turn and the pair dueled one another into submission, Willet angled out four-wide, advanced and then simply blew by the field midstretch, opening up to a 9 1/4-length margin of victory by the wire.
Miss Valentine, last early, won a three-way-photo for place, nosing out both Lady On the Run, who finished third and Beautiful But Blue in fourth. Risky Rachel, Great Gracie Dane, Agave Kiss and Guyana Princess completed the order of finish. Capable Argument was scratched. The final time for the seven furlongs on the “muddy” Belmont main track was 1:23.28
Winning jockey Rajiv Maragh said, “I wanted to be a little more forwardly placed looking at it coming into the race, but she wasn’t keeping up early, so I kind of had to go to Plan B. At the quarter pole, she just jumped in like a different horse and sprinted home. In the early part of the race I was a little worried because it seemed like she wasn’t quite getting hold of the track, but in the end she just took off.”
Trainer Jimmy Iselin, who owns Willet in partnership with Charlotte Assoulin and Eli Gindi, said, “Even though you tell the rider she’s ratable and take your time, you start to get worried [the first three-eighths of a mile]. She’s such a good horse; she’s a very special horse. She looks like Zenyatta. I don’t know if she’s as good as Zenyatta, but she looks a lot like her.”
Willet, who has a history of obstreperous pre-race behavior, was a model of composure on Saturday after being ridden over to the paddock – a technique Iselin said he learned from Hall of Fame trainer Charlie Whittingham. “That’s what got her home today,” Iselin said, “her behavior and her ability.”
The Grade 2 Go for Wand at Aqueduct on November 23 is a possibility for the filly’s next start.
Willet won three of four starts in 2011, airing in her only prior race over off-going, when she broke her maiden by 14 lengths at Belmont last September at second asking. In her next two starts she won back-to-back allowance races at Aqueduct in November and December by a combined 13 1/4 lengths.
In her stakes (and 2012 debut) in the Union Avenue on August 20 at Saratoga. Willet finished a strong second behind Risky Rachel. Last out on September 23 she was third in an open entry-level allowance at Belmont. With a record of 4-2-1 from seven starts Willet has earned $205,400.
Bred by the late Michael T. Martin and foaled at Highcliff Farm in Delanson (now Highcliff at Mill Creek Farm), Willet is by Jump Start out of Katina K, a daughter of Distinctive Pro. Katina K has produced four winners from four starters, including 10-time winner Dr. Quirk (Tomorrows Cat) who earned $159,305.