Edgar Prado got a great trip and Willy o'the Valley responded, winning her third straight race Saturday in the Emirates Airline Maryland Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. III) at Pimlico.
The win, however, was the first for Willy o'the Valley's new connections, who claimed him for $100,000 at Keeneland April 13. Owner IEAH Stables and trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. got an immediate $120,000 return on their investment with a win in the $189,000 race.
They claimed the 4-year-old Will's Way
gelding from Rudlein Stable and William Clifton and trainer Jim Bond. It was the first stakes win for Willy o'the Valley, who last year ran fourth in the Fly So Free Stakes at Belmont.
"I was going to run him at Monmouth in an overnight stake, but I saw this race wasn't coming up the strongest," Dutrow said. "I really don't know his best game yet, but I'm happy about what happened today. We have time to figure him out."
Under Prado, Willy o'the Valley avoided any trouble in the race from the outside post in the eight-horse field. Take Achance On Me, With Distinction, and Sir Oscar battled on the front end through an opening corner in :23.23 and a half-mile in :45.63. The five furlongs was in :57.46.
When the field turned for home, Willy o'the Valley was rolling on the outside and had reserved enough run to get by With Distinction, in the middle, and Take Achance On Me, who had the rail. The margin of victory over With Distinction was one length with Take Achance On Me a neck farther back in third.
Prado regained the mount on Willy o'the Valley, who he rode six times previously.
"When I swung outside, he really kicked it in," Prado said. "I'm really lucky to get back with him and winning this race."
Out of the Dixieland Band
mare Lizzie Toon, Willy o'the Valley was bred in Kentucky by Anne and Don Rudder and William L. Clifton Jr. The victory was his sixth in 13 starts overall with total earnings of $288,743.
Willy o'the Valley, who covered the six furlongs in 1:09.95, paid $9.80, $5.60, and $5. With Distinction, ridden by Gary Stevens, returned $8.80 and $6.20, while Take Achance on Me, with Rafael Bejarano aboard, was worth $5.40.
"This horse ran too good to get beat today," Stevens said. "He didn't see the winner, so he just ran fast enough to beat (Take Achance on Me)."
Favored Gators N Bears, looking to repeat his victory in this race a year ago for jockey Chuck Lopez, ran fourth, more than four lengths behind the winner. Gators N Bears lost ground while fighting for the early pace on the outside, drifted out in the stretch and brushed with Willy o'the Valley, giving way after that.
"I wish the race could have gone a little better for us today," Lopez said. "My horse outbroke the gate and had some kick on the turn, but unfortunately just flattened out. This horse has been very consistent and just didn't have it today."
Then came Always Noble, Sir Oscar, Excellent Band and Primary Suspect.