Odds-On favorite Will O Way, responding to strong urging from jockey Russell Baze after being headed in the homestretch, held off the charging Point of Reference by a nose in the final stride, winning the $100,000 California Oaks at Golden Gate Fields Jan. 31.
Will O Way, moving strongly while three wide on the far turn, had taken command leaving the quarter pole but came under pressure in the lane from Oro Blanco, who put her head at the furlong marker. Will O Way fought back to gain control in deep stretch, but was fully extended under a frantic Baze to hold off the relentless Point of Reference, a 14-1 shot guided along the inside by Leslie Mawing. Oro Blanco, with Roberto Gonzalez aboard, finished third, one length behind. The final time for the 1 1/6-mile test for 3-year-old fillies was 1:45.23 on Golden Gate's Tapeta racing surface.
"She pulled me to the lead," said Baze of Will O Way, who raced in third before going after pacesetters Be So Special and Digestivo on the far turn. "When I saw (Oro Blanco) coming up outside her, I asked her to pick it up and didn't get the response I was looking for. When that horse was beside her, she was just eyeballing her and lost her focus on running. But when (Point of Reference) came up inside of her, she regained her focus and started running again."
Trained by Vladimir Cerin for owners Ronald C. Waranch and Holly and David Wilson, Will O Way earned her second stakes victory, both of them coming at Golden Gate. The daughter of Broken Vow was coming off a third-place placing in the 1 1/16-mile Santa Ysabel Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita Jan. 11 when she finished 2 1/2 lengths behind the victorious Century Park. Her prior stakes win came at one mile in the Corte Madera Stakes Dec. 13, a race she won by 5 1/2 lengths when Baze rode for the first time.
"She wasn't as fit as I would like to have had her," said Cerin. "She bruised a foot after her last race and I lost a little training time. I thought it wouldn't matter but it absolutely did. She's a little better than this. She won on her determination and Russell's ride."
The $60,000 winning purse increased the bay filly's career earnings to $162,500 while compiling a career record of 3-0-2 in seven starts.
Fred W. Pace bred Will O Way in Kentucky. The winner is out of Willow Woodman, by Woodman.
Sent off as the 1-2 choice over six rivals, Will O Way paid $3, $2.60 and $2.10. Point of Reference, trained by Frank Lucarelli, returned $8 and $3.60 while rounding out a $2 exacta worth $22. The maiden winner Oro Blanco was $2.60 to show. Montana Fields, Digestivo, Be So Special and Miss Lion Heart followed.